Jaxport calls new St. Johns River dredge plan key to getting started

Jeff Valin reporting 06/09/2017

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Port Authority announced on Friday a change to its proposed plan to deepen the St. Johns River, that is expected to reduce the cost of the project by more $200 million.

JAXPORT said the reduction in cost is due to the dredging project being reduced in size from 13-miles to 11-miles, reaching only to Blount Point. Rubin said the alteration promises an overall cost reduction of roughly 30 percent, from $700 million to $484 million.

"The news today about the federal government being in for more, the unwavering support of the State of Florida and Governor Scott for this project, all the way through, means that we will work each and every day to reduce the potential contribution from this community," Jaxport spokeswoman Nancy Rubin told First Coast News.
 

But Dale Lewis, a former CSX executive and shipping consultant, told First Coast News he's not certain the project can bring the needed return on investment. In a presentation dated yesterday (June 8), Lewis said "“Jaxport’s history does not support the idea that their growth forecasts are reliable," adding such comments as, “In general, Jaxport has forecast 50-100% growth in each five-year plan,” and “Jaxport’s growth has been about one-fifth of the forecasts”.

Speaking with First Coast News by phone, Lewis cautioned that it was too soon for him to analyze the project's merits based on today's changes, but in a video presentation he cited, he asserts that infrastructure requirements would push the total cost upward to a figure between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion.

"Keep in mind, you do the dredging now, but to reach the full value of Jaxport’s plan you’re obligated to put the other money in," Lewis contends in the video.

That's another point of apparent disagreement.

"[The existing infrastructure] is ready to go," Rubin said. "We have been working for many years to make sure that all of our terminals are ready for the future."

Rubin said the dredging is crucial to keeping Jacksonville competitive versus other ports such as Charleston, Savannah, Houston, and even West Coast locations.

"There is a bigger selection of Asian container cargo that's going to be coming to the East Coast and has been coming to the East Coast," Rubin said. "So, the pie is bigger for all of us. You can hear about other ports growing, but we're in the game."

Rubin said the project is eligible for federal funding to cover as much as half the cost, and that any local funding would come from reallocation of existing budget, not higher taxes. Jaxport hopes to start dredging in early 2018 and anticipates completion in five to six years.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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