Opinions vary on St. Johns River dredging

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Port Task Force got new economic projections Thursday that point out the necessity of making local ports more efficient.

Dredging the St. Johns River will be a $638 million investment, which is one reason why it's such a huge decision. Some are asking, is it worth it?

People for the dredging say although it's a heavy cost, research shows the area will gain $2.70 for every dollar that's invested.

"It's a big economic driver," Ananth Prasad, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. "If we are going to continue to grow our state, create jobs, create the manufacturing jobs, the ports are going to play a key part."

Prasad is all aboard the project and said Jacksonville must take advantage of the opportunity to dredge.

"This is a big decision," he said. "It could continue to launch and have Duval County, Jacksonville and the state of Florida take off. Or we are going to continue to be an afterthought."

The reason to dredge to 47 feet would be to allow bigger ships to come into JaxPort.

"We need our ports to be prepared to receive more ships of these larger sizes," said Col. Alan Dodd, commander for the Jacksonville District of U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. "Jacksonville is one of the key ports in this nation."

The project is authorized by Congress and signed off by the president.

Supporters say the port growth will create thousands of jobs, but environmentalists don't want JaxPort to dredge without considering the ramifications.

"We need to make sure the environmental risk is not greater than the economic risk," said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman.

She is worried about the future of the waterway because she said dredging will greatly change the river.

"The port is wanting to dredge just for the opportunity to compete, and our river is already competing and we need to make sure we protect the St. Johns in every way possible," Rinaman said.

She and other technical teams are working with the Army Corps of Engineers of JaxPort to make sure any harm done to the river is properly prepared for.

If there is enough support to move forward, JaxPort would want to start construction in 2016.

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