The St. Johns River shipping channel at Mayport will soon see the improvements it needs to help keep a large chunk of Jacksonville's economy stable.
On Wednesday, Jacksonville Port Authority officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the start of the Mile Point Project, which will correct a problem that has inhibited Jacksonville's ability to compete globally when it comes to cargo shipping. Officials signed an agreement to start the design phase of the project.
JaxPort CEO Paul Anderson said fixing Mile Point will create 3,500 and more than 17,000 supported jobs.
Mile Point is an area outside the port that officials say desperately needs to be dredged because the channel is too small for many large cargo ships to pass through, and that's causing the city to miss out on business and jobs.
The confluence of the St. Johns River with the Intracoastal Waterway known as Mile Point creates difficult crosscurrents on the ebb tide. Large ships only have two four-hour windows to get in and out of Mile Point because of the currents.
"Imagine if these bridges to our city were only open four hours a day," Anderson said.
A lot of time and money, even opportunity is wasted because of the time restriction. Many companies aren't willing to pay for their ships to wait in the Atlantic Ocean, an estimated $10,000 every hour.
So they bypass Jacksonville, choosing other nearby ports like Savannah, Ga., to deliver and pick up cargo.
"Our competition is not Georgia and Alabama. We're competing with the world, and that's why it's so important," said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.
TraPac Inc. has invested $300 million operating a marine terminal at Dames Point. A good portion of their business -- ships coming in from Asia -- are affected by Mile Point.
"We have water vessels that actually are delayed pretty much weekly, and so when you have about 30 to 60 percent of your business that's directly impacted by Mile Point, this is a major milestone getting it corrected," said Dennis Kelly, regional vice president of TraPac Inc.
The milestone means taxpayers' money that was invested in making this port 40 feet deep so more companies would choose Jacksonville will go that much further.
"This is about jobs, this is about opportunity, and the best way for the taxpayers to get a return on their investment is investing in this port," Mayor Alvin Brown said.
The port is the second-largest employer in Jacksonville.
Now that the Army Corp of Engineers has signed off on the deal, JaxPort needs congressional action. The $2 million engineering and design portion is good to go and can start immediately.
But the entire mile point project will cost $38 million, and pending approval from Congress will be finished in 2014.