Corps releasing study of St. Johns River deepening

Project could cost $733 million

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing a study that will show the financial and environmental impacts of deepening the St. Johns River channel in Jacksonville to cater to larger ships.

Port officials say doing so will mean creating more jobs and keeping local businesses afloat.

"Bottom line is if we don't have deep water, the ships are getting larger and deeper, then we are going to be out of business," said Dennis Kelly, general manager of the TraPac terminal on the Northside, off Heckscher Drive.

TraPac is a private company at the port that contracts with shippers to bring in and ship out cargo. It's been in Jacksonville for four years and is making a big impact in the shipping industry here. But if the port deepened the channel to 47 feet, the impact would be much more, Kelly said.

"We are operating about 20-25 percent of our capacity, so we have a long way to go," Kelly said. "With deep water, we should get up to 50-plus percent."

That's one reason why the port and the Corps of Engineers are wanting to dredge the channel from the mouth of the St. Johns River to just past the Dames Point Bridge.

The Corps is looking for feedback and money because the cost to do it could run $733 million.

"The funding right now is to get it authorized, and we expect to complete the report in April 2014," said Jason Harrah, of the Corps of Engineers. "That report will then be submitted to Congress to receive the authorization."

Before that happens, the Corps wants residents' input and is making it available online to do so.

Already, some environmental groups are not happy.

"It will increase salinity. It will kill all grass. It will have an impact on our fisheries, our tributaries. And we have to protect this natural resource," St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said.

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