Advocacy group sues JaxPort over dredging claims

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Opponents of proposed dredging of the St. Johns River to allow larger ships to use Jacksonville's port facilities filed a lawsuit saying the project won't create as many jobs as claimed.

The Public Trust Environmental League questions projections by a well-known national economist that a deeper river will create 34,000 jobs.

The plaintiff in the case wants to know how Martin and Associates came up with the economic impact numbers. The group says when asked how the group got the numbers being used to justify a $700-million taxpayer-funded project, it never got an answer.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given preliminary approval for the dredging the St. Johns River for 13 miles to accommodate larger ships coming in and out of the Jacksonville Port Authority, but it awaits congressional approval.

JaxPort, the city of Jacksonville and Chamber of Commerce have all said thousands of jobs will be created in Jacksonville by a deeper river bottom and larger ship.

"If we're going to spend $730 million, we need to know that the assumptions the facts and calculations are correct," said attorney Andy Miller. "We cannot make this $730 million gamble on assumptions that we can't investigate."

Miller says the company hired by JaxPort, Martin and Associates, has not responded to their public records request for more information.

"We haven't gotten the input data that we need," attorney Warren Anderson said. "We haven't got the model numbers we need, and science to try to reproduce the results."

"We are astounded that there are allegations that we haven't complied with public records law," said JaxPort spokeswoman Nancy Rubin. "We take our role as stewards of public records very seriously."

Rubin says the port is anticipating the creation of roughly 13,000 jobs and not 34,000. She says these lawyers have the wrong information, but she admits the Port Authority doesn't know how Martin and Associates reached its conclusion.

"The exact impacts, the methodology the modeling, does not come to the Port Authority," said Rubin.

Rubin says the information the lawyers are requesting may not be public record. It's a determination a judge might have to make.

News4Jax called Martin and Associates to get more information about its job projections and have not received a call back.

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce issued a statement about the legal challenge:

"It's disappointing to see that instead of working to be a part of the discussion and building a long-term solution for our community, groups who have decided to oppose the deepening have chosen to use the court system in an attempt to delay and stall this project. These tactics do nothing to move our city forward. It is clear these groups are going to be opposed to this opportunity for our region, regardless of the facts and potential benefit, and will do anything they can to try to delay it."

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