Posted on January 11, 2023
The Jacksonville City Council approved $27.5 million in financing for the Jacksonville Port Authority’s push to raise six high-voltage transmission lines over the St. Johns River to give additional clearance to large ships coming into the Blount Island Marine Terminal.
The Council voted 19-0 to approve Ordinance 2022-0874 on Jan. 10 as part of its consent agenda that authorizes the city to lend JaxPort $12.5 million; create a $5 million line of credit; and award a $10 million grant for the project.
JaxPort says the JEA-owned power lines over the Fulton Cut St. Johns River Crossing will be raised to 225 feet to get the benefit of its four-year, $420 million harbor-deepening project.
The lines currently have an operational height of 175 feet which will be increased to 205 feet with the additional 20 feet of clearance for safety, according to JaxPort.
JaxPort worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the 11-mile federal shipping channel in the St. Johns River to 47 feet to allow passage of large, post-Panamax vessels —ships that can pass through the enlarged Panama Canal.
The St. Johns deepening was completed in May 2022.
JaxPort says the project could cost up to $45 million.
Port CEO Eric Green said in an emailed statement Jan. 11 that the state and city collaboration on the project “shows the world that Jacksonville is open for business and well-positioned for the future.”
“We are grateful to our funding partners—The State of Florida and the City of Jacksonville—for their continued support of port growth and the jobs, economic impact, and supply chain security our modern deepwater seaport provides,” Green said.
“With the funding now in place, we look forward to finalizing an interlocal agreement with JEA detailing the project’s next steps, including the timeline.”
The city-owned JEA utility completed and released a feasibility study in May by engineering services company Worley that showed an estimated cost of $33.49 million to $54.42 million to raise the lines.
Leaders with JaxPort and JEA, the city-owned electric, water and wastewater utility, signed a memorandum of understanding in June that said the port would secure 100% of the funding to raise the lines. JEA would procure materials and labor to do the work.
The port plans for the project to be complete in 2026.
The $12.5 million city loan would be repaid over 10 years at 3.5% interest.
According to the bill summary, the $10 million grant funds will be appropriated in a future fiscal year.
The Council’s vote follows a JaxPort board vote in December to accept an initial $1 million from FDOT for the project.
According to board documents, FDOT will give JaxPort $22.55 million for the project over the next four years.
The power lines were installed in 1982. In December 2020, JaxPort and St. Johns Bar Pilot Association conducted a simulation that found large ships would need a minimum 197 feet of clearance to safely navigate under the power lines.
On March 4, JaxPort board member Jamie Shelton sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis that urged JEA to move faster on devising a plan to raise the power lines.
That was followed by a March 30 letter to JEA CEO Jay Stowe asking for an update on the utility’s plan to ensure the power lines were raised.
JEA officials and the city Office of General Counsel helped negotiate the memorandum of understanding, according to JaxPort Chief of Regulatory Compliance Nick Primrose.
JEA board member John Baker, who was JaxPort board chair in 2019, said in April he supported raising the lines but he also acknowledged the risk and liability moving the lines would create for the utility’s electric system.