Water taxi service runs into delays, while city picks top bidder to negotiation with to run service longterm.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The city of Jacksonville will begin negotiations with Lakeshore Marine to operate the water taxi service on the river.

The company won out over one other bidder. Frank Surface with Lakeshore Marine says they have been in business 30 years in the city and saw an opportunity to help get people back and forth across the river.

"We are excited." said Surface. " We have not operated a water taxi service but have done a lot of passengers for hire work on the river. We will move on to the next step and hopefully work out the contract ."

The city wants to work out a stable deal so people can enjoy the river. "We want to promote the river and promote downtown," said David DeCamp with the mayor's office.

But first, the city must work out a temporary deal for a company to operate the water taxis once they are certified by the Coast Guard. That is likely to be Multi Marine Services owned by Jimmy Hill. Hill told First Coast News on Monday that "it is pretty bleak without those boats running the river downtown."

The Sea Charm 1 and the Native Choice are still sitting idle at the Sadler Point Marina on the Ortega River off Roosevelt Boulevard. The boats were purchased by Harry Frisch of Beaver Street Fisheries to bail out the city when city lawyers ruled the purchase unauthorized.

Frisch is working with the Coast Guard to get the boats registered and inspected.

Meanwhile a timetable for when the two water taxis will be inspected and given the go-ahead to be on the river is up in the air. The U.S. Coast Guard briefed the media on Thursday and said it could take 4-6 weeks for paperwork to come through for a certificate of documentation for the water taxis.

"We are looking at 6-7 weeks," said LCDR Marc Montemerlo, chief of inspections with the U.S. Coast Guard. "That would be the maximum. We understand the city has sent a letter asking for the process to be expedited."

The Coast Guard did a preliminary walk through on Thursday and found minor deficiencies with life jackets, signage and a first aid kit. But they promise a thorough inspection to make sure the vessels are safe for passengers. A similar pontoon boat capsized in the Baltimore harbor in 2004 and five were killed.

"Until we inspect the vessel and run drills, for instance we will run a man overboard drill, a fire drill, until we access the true efficiency, I would not argue any vessel is safe until it passes a Coast Guard inspection, " said CDR Alisa Praskovich, Cheif of the Prevention Department at U.S. Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville.

Once the local Coast Guard gets the certificate of documentation, it will review the application for inspection and schedule an inspection. That could take 4-8 hours , and if the water taxis pass inspection, they could be underway the same day.

But the delays in getting the paperwork means no water taxi service for the big soccer game and concert this weekend. The first Jaguars pre-season game on August 8 won't have service either, and the second game on August 28th could be without it as well.

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