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Putnam County gets $353K to advance port refurbishment

Port Manager Sam Sullivan stands at the edge of the Putnam County Barge Port in 2021.

Posted on January 2, 2024

Federal transportation officials granted the Putnam County Barge Port hundreds of thousands of dollars county officials said will aid in the efforts to revitalize the facility.

The county received $353,500 via the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Port Infrastructure Development Grant, and those dollars must be used by 2026, Port Manager Sam Sullivan said in an email.

Receiving the money is great news for Putnam and its barge port endeavors, County Administrator Terry Suggs said in a press release.

“These monies from the federal government would enable Putnam County to develop and implement a much-needed Port Development Plan that will serve as a roadmap to the establishment of a sustainable county-owned Barge Port in Central Florida,” he stated.

With the new federal funding, county officials said they can analyze the port’s current infrastructure, study local market needs and develop a detailed plan to begin commercial traffic along the St. Johns River.

Efforts to revitalize the port began in 2021 after the Port Authority Board, which is composed of all five members of the Board of County Commissioners, voted to fund a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging feasibility assessment.

A barrier to the optimal use of the port has been the Shands Bridge, a structure in Clay County that is too low for large vessels to pass beneath it.

However, Florida Department of Transportation officials announced in 2018 that funding had been approved to replace the bridge. The project, which is slated to cost $595 million, will add 20 feet in height to the bridge, according to the state.

The agency expects the project to be completed in 2030.

The increased bridge height would allow large vessels to travel along the St. Johns River from Putnam County to Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean. Having a barge port for these ships to travel to would be beneficial for the county’s economy, Sullivan said.

“Our intent is for this barge port to serve as a regional hub and have an enormously positive economic impact on a region of the United States that has been historically underemployed and economically depressed,” Sullivan said in a press release.

County officials applied for the grant in October 2022, Sullivan said in an email, and received it Dec. 3 this year. He said county officials were notified of the funding from the U.S. Maritime Administration, which falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Branden Leay Villalona, the director of the administration’s South Atlantic Gateway Region Office, said in a statement that port projects in communities can revitalize economies.

“This investment will have a positive impact on improving the infrastructure needed for Putnam County’s growing transportation modes by cultivating new economic opportunities and jobs in the region,” Villalona said.


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