The Jacksonville Port Authority told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it needs a 47-foot-deep channel to remain competitive.
At a meeting of Monday, Jaxport's board of directors voted unanimously to inform the Corps that it will pursue this harbor depth by supplying additional local investment for the project.
“We all know that there is incredible opportunity just over the
horizon for North Florida and the ability to be the first or last port
of call for the larger cargo vessels fully loaded means jobs and
positive growth for the private sector in our region,” Jaxport Interim Chief Executive Officer Roy Schleicher said. “We must maximize the use of the public
assets under our management and we must do so now.”
Nancy Rubin, a spokeswoman for the port, said the board voted to request 47 feet of water depth after a presentation by the Corps indicated it was likely that a draft result of its harbor deepening study to be released in May will recommend deepening the shipping channel to 45 feet. The board, she said, was asked by the Corps to give its locally preferred option.
The Corps' Jacksonville District is conducting a study to increase the depth of the existing federal channel along the St. Johns River from
its current project depth of 40 feet to a maximum depth of 50 feet. The Corps said its study is focused on the portion of the harbor up to river mile 14, which would include Jaxport's terminals at Blount Island and Dames Point. The study will evaluate navigation concerns and provide recommendations for investigating navigation improvements.
The study isn't far enough along yet to present any estimated project costs, but by seeking a 47-foot depth Jaxport is signaling its intention to increase its local contribution. Under the current cost-sharing formula for navigation improvement projects, localities are responsible for paying 60 percent of the cost for depths greater than 45 feet versus 35 percent for expansion dredging up to 45 feet.
"Many of the vessels that currently use Jacksonville Harbor must light-load or wait on tidal advantage in order to enter or leave
the harbor causing increased transportation costs," the Corps noted. "The current depth also impacts the introduction of larger vessels into the fleet that would visit Jacksonville Harbor."
The Corps expects that by April 2014, the chief of engineers will be able to transmit its recommendations to Congress for consideration of appropriating funds for the deepening project. - Chris Dupin
and Eric Kulisch