"As long as every port and every federal waterway is treated fairly, then I think anything's probably on the table," said Foltz, Georgia's ports chief. "But we need to find a funding source to make sure our ports remain competitive."
The report warned that as trade shifts to Southeast ports, making room for bigger ships will carry environmental costs associated with deepening harbors and building more port infrastructure.
"Deepening channels in estuaries can allow saline water to penetrate deeper into freshwater ecosystems where it may damage wetlands and contaminate water supplies," the report said. "Rising sea level associated with global warming may worsen these effects."
The report did not make any recommendations on which specific projects should be ranked before others. Environmental groups and other critics have said the federal government should play a larger role in coordinating which ports get deepened to focus on those that would yield the greatest benefits for the least amount of money and environmental damage.
Bruce Smith reported from Charleston, S.C.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.