The 47-foot Jacksonville harbor navigation project draft report was approved by the Army Corps of Engineer's assistant secretary for civil works on May 17 and was officially released Thursday for a 60-day public comment period.
The tentatively selected plan calls for dredging the Florida port's harbor channel to a depth of 47 feet, two feet deeper than the National Economic Development plan released by the Corps. The plan was approved based on the positive net benefits derived from that depth.
The plan raises the local share of the $733 million project from $189 million to $383 million, with $95 million of that increase for terminal improvements necessary to accommodate the 47-foot depth.
The draft report is available at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil
and the first public hearing on the project will be held in Jacksonville on June 27.
While the project is currently not included in the 2013 Water Resources Development Act before the U.S. Senate, Florida’s congressional delegation is working to include authorization for the project in the bill, contingent on the signoff by the Corps' chief of engineers. This is the same approach to authorization that's being used for the Port of Savannah's harbor-deepening project.
In the notes on the draft report provided by the Corps, the final signoff on the project is expected by April 30, 2014.
If the authorization process goes as expected the real battle will be getting funding for the project with already tight budgets in Washington and several ports seeking funding for their deepening projects.
Jacksonville may seek to self-fund the project with help from the state, similar to the significantly less-expensive Miami habor deepening where the state is advancing most of the federal share of the project. The state will then seek funding from the federal government to recoup the federal share.
When asked about project funding, Roy Schleicher, interim chief executive officer for the Jacksonville Port Authority, said “can we go out and get bond funding for the entire $733 million project? No. We will rely heavily on the state; there is no doubt about it.”
He added that Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been extremely supportive of the port and understands the contribution the ports make to the state’s economy.