In studies finished last November that recommend deepening Savannah's harbor, the Army Corps of Engineers concludes the project would have economic benefits for the nation as a whole - the benchmark for the agency's approval.

But what the Army Corps hasn't done is take a comprehensive look at all East Coast ports to determine how many should be dredged to post-Panamax depths and which would reap the most benefits for the best price.

"The Corps is evaluating the cost and benefits of these individual proposals in a vacuum," said Chris DeScherer, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. "Where does it make the most sense on the East Coast to have a deep water port? Where does the American taxpayer get the most bang for his buck with the least environmental impact?"

The Army Corps said it hasn't done a broader study to compare ports, in part, because no one has asked.

The Corps doesn't have the authority to initiate port studies on its own.

"To date, there has been no request by the ports or Congress to undertake a comprehensive study," said Jim Walker, chief of the Navigation Program for the Army Corps of Engineers.