JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The city's efforts to get the water taxis back on the river have hit another snag.
The service ended in early June and now it appears they likely won't be in service until after the start of the Jaguars season.
First Coast News talked to city officials the week before last and they were hopeful they could get the water taxis back on the water this past weekend. That didn't happen .
And now the word is it could be as long as two months before those water taxis are back on the water shuffling people back and forth across the river.
The two water taxis that should eventually be in service sit idle at the Sadler Point Marina off Roosevelt Boulevard.
The mayor's office worked out an emergency deal to purchase the boats, but it was an unauthorized purchase said city lawyers. Local businessman Harry Frisch of Beaver Street Foods offered to buy the boats and lease them back to the city until a permanent operator could be found.
Frisch now owns the boats. He has applied for a certificate of documentation with the Coast Guard, similar to a vehicle registration for your car. The Coast Guard tells First Coast News that will take 4-6 weeks to complete at their one office in West Virginia that does that paperwork, the National Vessel Documentation Center.
Then it will take two weeks to review the application for inspection and schedule an inspection that would take one day. So it could be September before you can use the water taxis.
"Without the water taxis it is a pretty bleak sight now there without those boats moving back and forth," said Jimmy Hill, a local boating enthusiast and owner of Multi Marine Services. "So , we want to see them moving and do whatever we can do to get them moving."
Hill has been talking to the city and offered his company to temporarily run what he calls water shuffles until a longterm operator can be chosen. He will hire most of the captains who operated the boats previously to help.
"It is hurting the guys that normally drive the boats, we would like to see them get back to work as quick as we can. It is a process with a lot of working parts and a lot of agencies so the inspection process, the Coast Guard and all that is not something that happens really quick. We are waiting to see how long it takes , and it is underway , as it goes through the process we are watching."
Lt. Commander Mark Montenerlo , the chief of inspections at the Coast Guard here at Mayport, says they are aware of the situation and anxious to do the inspections but he admits it is a slow process.
"We will pay close attention to those boats when we do the inspections to make sure they are safe for passengers," said Montenerlo. "Those inspections, once scheduled, will take about a day. They will be thorough."
City Councilman Bill Gulliford's had this reaction to news of the delays. "A continued folly and an ongoing sad story when you don't do things right.," said Gulliford. He isn't so sure the city should be in the water taxi business temporarily before a long term operator can be chosen.
Meanwhile the city has received two bids from companies wanting to operate the water taxis on a long term basis. The city is currently evaluating and scoring those bids and we will know Thursday if the bids meet the requirements and which company the city can then negotiate with on a contract.
If those bids do not meet specifications, then the bidding process would start over.
City spokesperson Pam Roman did express surprise at how long the process is taking to get those boats certified with the Coast Guard.