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Port Authority Budget Includes $47 Million to Begin River Dredging

Posted on June 30, 2016

By Sebastian Kitchen,

A controversial project to deepen the Jacksonville ship channel inched forward Monday with the inclusion of $46.6 million in the port authority budget to deepen the St. Johns River to allow larger cargo ships.

The capital and operating budgets for the 2017 fiscal year approved on Monday by the Jacksonville Port Authority’s board include money to begin the $684 million project to deepen 13 miles of the river from 40 feet to 47 feet. The money for dredging includes $31.6 million from the state and $15 million in port financing.

Chief Executive Officer Brian Taylor, who was in Panama over the weekend for the ceremonial opening of the expanded Panama Canal, has said he expects construction to begin next year. There are legal challenges that could delay the work. The St. Johns Riverkeeper is challenging the state permit for the deepening, citing anticipated environmental damage, and its leaders have said they will use “every avenue available,” including challenging the project in federal court.

The port authority board approved a 2017 budget forecasting almost $60 million in operating revenues that is $1.8 million over the projected budget for this fiscal year. The projected operating expenses for 2017 are $32.3 million for an operating income of $27.7 million.

The budget includes a 3 percent raise for 66 union employees with the board approving a collective bargaining agreement at the meeting. The three-year contract has the 3 percent increase in the first year and a 2 percent rise in subsequent years. The board also approved a 3 percent increase for Taylor, following a performance review, to $362,560 annually effective Oct. 1, when the fiscal year begins.

The $127 million budgeted for capital projects includes federal, state, tenant and port funding. The spending plan now goes to the Jacksonville City Council for consideration.

Port Chief Financial Officer Mike Poole told board members the notable items in the budget were the funds to match the state allocation to begin the first phase of the deepening project, and money to move key tenant Crowley.

The board budgeted $3 million to expand the operation of Crowley Liner Services at the Talleyrand terminal, which includes relocating two cranes from Blount Island and enhancing the Talleyrand gate complex and terminal asphalt.

Crowley, which is headquartered in Jacksonville, agreed to move its Puerto Rican service from its private terminal to the port authority’s nearby Talleyrand terminal in preparation for the company’s two new liquefied natural gas-powered ships.

In February 2015, the port board approved a 20-year contract (with two 10-year mutual renewal options) with Crowley that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017, expanding the company’s 12-acre lease at Talleyrand to 50 acres.


Taylor attended Sunday’s festive inaugural event at the Panama Canal, which included fireworks and flag waving, and was attended by 30,000 people including eight foreign heads of state, according to the Associated Press.

Taylor missed Monday’s port authority board meeting due to his travel, but chairman John Newman said he expected a report from the CEO at the next meeting.

The long-anticipated expansion to allow larger ships that carry more cargo set several East Coast ports, including Jacksonville, Miami and Savannah, racing toward expensive projects to deepen their shipping channels.

“This is the trend in the industry” for larger ships, said Roy Schleicher, the port’s executive vice president.

Taylor, Newman and other Jacksonville officials are pushing for state and federal funding to deepen the port here to allow the so-called post-Panamax ships expected to eventually dominate the shipping trade. Miami has already deepened its channel to 50 feet and construction has started in Savannah. Charleston, S.C., and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale are among the other Southeast ports pushing to deepen their ports.

Eric Green, senior director of government and external affairs for the port authority, traveled to Washington, D.C., several times in the last month to discuss funding.

U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and John Mica of Florida, both members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, are working with port officials to set up a meeting with Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, to talk about funding for the dredging, Green said. He said the meeting has not been set, but will hopefully be in the “next couple weeks.”

Nancy Rubin, spokeswoman for the port, said the canal opening was a “historic occasion” and she expects the first ship that travels to Jacksonville from those locks to dock here in July. She said the larger ships have traveled to Jacksonville for years through the Suez Canal, but have not been fully loaded because the port is not deep enough. The opening of the deepened Panama Canal has led to the urgency to deepen the Jacksonville port and to other upgrades including a $30 million rail facility, Rubin said.

The $5.25 billion Panama project doubled the capacity of the canal there, according to the Associated Press.


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