JaxPort: Small channel hurts business

Port Authority missing out on jobs, not waiting on federal funds

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A crucial section of Jacksonville's shipping channel is too small for many large, cargo ships to pass through, and because it has yet to be dredged, Jacksonville is missing out on jobs and business.

That's why Jacksonville Port Authority officials say they aren't waiting around for much-needed federal money and are now seeking additional means of funding.

The large container ships that need access carry the things people buy at stores, and their cost is tied in to their circuitous route.

For every ship that makes its way through Mile Point on the St. Johns River, just west of Naval Station Mayport, to JaxPort, there are others that pass the River City by because of the restrictive stretch of river.

"We are getting a double whammy," said Paul Anderson, CEO of JaxPort. "We are losing the benefit of that cargo that could be increased, therefore growing jobs."

The one-mile point is choking jobs and revenue from JaxPort, and Anderson said red tape is to blame. Federal funding for dredging has been in the works for 11 years. The whole process takes 13 years.

Large ships only have two four-hour windows to get in and out of Mile Point because of the tide.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers can be blamed for the most recent delay. It is one month late submitting a project report to Congress and the president.

The Army Corp said its project report is just waiting on a signature from its chief in Washington D.C. and should be ready by the end of this week.

In the meantime, JaxPort will put forth about $1 million of its own, while $20 million are coming from a TIGER grant. The state and possibly defense grants would finish out funding at $40 million.

"We are not going to wait for Congress to go around their old way of doing things because we just can't afford to do that," Anderson said.

The port is the second-largest employer in Jacksonville, and it doesn't want to lose jobs. Anderson said JaxPort is already missing out on getting billion-dollar contracts because it can't get the river dredged.

Meanwhile, those like longshoreman Kenneth McClain are chomping at the bit for more business.

"It's going to be rolling. I'll be down there looking for business as soon as I get my paperwork straight," McClain said.

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