House bill unlikely to approve JaxPort dredging

Rep. Corrine Brown disappointed her amendment was not accepted

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Rep. Corrine Brown's amendment for dredging the St. Johns River to a water resources bill moving through Congress was turned down by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that the proposal to dredge 12 miles of the channel from the mouth of the river to JaxPort facilities at Blount Island to 47 feet would cost of $737 million.

Congressional staff said the project was added several months past its deadline and therefore was not included. It could take two years before it would come up again.

JaxPort says it could have an impact on container shipments in and out of Jacksonville in future years when larger ships begin moving through the Panama Canal.

"All is not lost. Let's wait," spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said. "There is still debate in the next day or two in the House, and let's not forget there is still other version on the Senate side."

The Senate version of the Act does contain some good news for Jacksonville's port: It includes funding for the Mile Point Project -- a navigational hazard that exists near the mouth of the river that restricts large ships to only passing only at times of high tide.

Brown, R-Jacksonville, said she hopes the Senate will pass an amendment to add funds for dredging.

She said she will make it happen and will use one of her biggest allies in the fight -- the president, who visited the port in July.

"Failure just can't be an option for us," Brown said. "The president came to Jacksonville indicating that Jacksonville's port was exteremly important, and I am going to discuss with the White House and I'm going to discuss with the Secretary of Transportation. I am going to continue to work with the Senate and the House to get the language we need in the bill."

"We trust our political leadership in Washington to find a way to keep this project on track," Rubin said, "to make sure the lights don't go out on our deepening project, to make sure that forward momentum continues."

Other East Coast ports -- including Miami, Norfolk, Va. and New York City -- already have funds in place to deepen their channels to accommodate the larger ships, and plans are being finalized for dredging projects in Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga.

Brown made this statement Tuesday to the House Rules Committee about the amendment to the Water Resources and Development Act:

"I want to thank the Rules Committee for allowing me to testify today.

"I want to commend Chairman Shuster for restoring the bi-partisan nature of our committee and I want to thank Congressmen Rahall, Bishop and Gibbs for their hard work on this bill.

"The amendment that I am offering along with a bi-partisan coalition of Members from different states is very simple. It authorizes projects that receive a final Chiefs Report up to one year following enactment of the bill.

"Under the bill's current arbitrary deadline, critical Corps of Engineer projects throughout the United States will have to wait for years before being able to move their projects toward completion. The previous two Water Resources Development Acts each took seven years to reauthorize, delaying important environmental restoration projects and slowing preparation for larger ships. Compounding the problem, the sequester cuts and recent government shutdown has slowed the Corps of Engineers even further. These states simply can't afford to wait for these critical infrastructure improvements.

"The Jacksonville Port and North Florida community that I represent can't afford any more delays in preparing the Port for larger modern ships set to arrive in 2015. A deeper draft is critical to the continued viability of JAXPORT as an economic engine for Northeast Florida. Today, the Port provides 65,000 area jobs and $19 billion a year in economic activity. With a deeper draft, the Port has estimated that one shipping company alone would add 90,000 jobs to the region.

"The process for receiving a Chiefs Report for a project is long and painful, and includes thorough study and cost-benefit analysis. The project must be economically and environmentally justified, and it must provide an overall benefit to the country. The only difference between these projects included in this amendment and the ones that are authorized currently in the bill is that they receive their Chiefs Report after the bill was drafted.

"The amendment does not change the current bill in any way, and is paid for in the same way as the projects currently authorized in the bill, through the de-authorization of obsolete projects, so there is no additional cost.

"Simply put, authorizing these additional projects will generate billions of dollars in economic activity, create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs and benefit the nation's economy as a whole.

"I encourage the Rules committee to accept this critical amendment, and I yield back my time."

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