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Positive Trends Buttressing Port St. Joe

Posted on September 26, 2016

By Tim Croft, The Star

As the Port St. Joe Port Authority inches closer to a contract with a customer, the news surrounding the port rode a positive wave last week.

Most prominent, the announcement from the U.S. Coast Guard that it had awarded a $10.5 billion contract to Eastern Shipbuilding in Bay County to build nine offshore patrol cutters (see story A2).

The contract was the largest ever awarded by the Coast Guard.

“It has the potential of being one of the greatest economic drivers in this region,” said Port Authority chair Eugene Raffield. “I’m excited; (the Port Authority is) excited.”

Raffield’s fishing business has a long history with Brian D’Isernia, whose family owns Eastern Shipping.

A boat built by D’Isernia and christened in 1977 and part of Raffield Fisheries’ fleet is the sister ship to the Andria Gail which was lost in events detailed in the movie “The Perfect Storm.”

“The D’Isernia has worked hard, had some ups and downs, and never quit,” Raffield said. “I am happy for what they have accomplished.”

And with Eastern the owner of the parcel of land beneath the Tapper Bridge which was once slated to become a barge terminal for the Port of Port St. Joe as well as roughly half the bulkhead at the former paper mill site, Gulf County appears poised to play a role in Eastern’s future plans.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to sit down with Brian once he comes back to earth and talk about the potential for Gulf County,” Raffield said.

Meanwhile, a local marine company will be moving 10,000 tons of aggregate in the coming weeks, providing additional shipping credit for the Port of Port St. Joe.

That credit is critical, said Tommy Pitts, project manager with Mott MacDonald, to secure U.S. Army Corps funds for future maintenance dredging of the shipping channel.

“Anything” shipped within the shipping channel or port planning area provides tonnage for the Port of Port St. Joe, Raffield said, noting the port already receives credit through shipping by the two fisheries along the canal.

“It is good we have barge traffic and the seafood industry,” Pitts said.

Raffield added, “These are the little starts of what a port does.”

Those steps are taken, Raffield noted, while discussions taking place beyond the county keep the port on the radar with state and federal officials.

Pitts indicated that talks are ongoing with the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) regarding securing the funding to move forward on dredging the federally-authorized shipping channel as permitted.

Dan Velazquez with the St. Joe Company said state legislative leaders during a visit of Bay County recently indicated the Florida Legislature would do what was needed to secure funding to make port development work, once a contract was in place.

Velazquez added that a company was discussing the former Premier Chemical site with the St. Joe Company.

And Raffield said a contract with a wood-chip company was “very close” and could be signed any day.

The contract would include a lease agreement for the former Arizona Chemical site, which the Port Authority owns.

“Sooner or later the fish are going to bite,” Raffield said. “When the dominoes start falling the doors closed to us now will be opened.

“A lot of people know what we are doing, they are ready for this to take off. We just need to perform.”

While contracts and letters of intent dominate the current port agenda, engineering and design work on the dredge spoil disposal infrastructure continues.

Pitts said Mott MacDonald have completed more than 60 percent of the work, aware all along about the timing.

“We are conscious of the timeline and that when you have a contract we will need to be ready,” Pitts said.

Source: The Star

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