JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Florida Governor Rick Scott has committed $38 million to complete the next phase of the Mile Point project.
That commitment comes from Florida Department of Transportation money, and $2 million of the total is from the US Army Corps of Engineers. It’s expected to bring about 3,500 jobs to the area either directly, through dockworkers, or as a trickle down through truckers, distribution centers, etc.
“You’re tax dollars, state tax dollars, are stepping up to say ‘we want these jobs now’,” Scott says.
In addition to the jobs coming in, the project is going to help increase port business.
“We have the capacity, we’re a great location, and it just makes good business sense,” says Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.
Right now, the crosscurrents at the Intracoastal Waterway and the St. Johns County River make it dangerous for some of the largest ships, many container ships, to come in to the port most of the day. Right now, they’re restricted to about 8 hours of favorable tides a day. By the completion of the long term construction at Jacksonville’s ports, which includes dredging as well, these ships would have access 24-hours a day.
Governor Scott is confident the project, with this funding, is now on an 18 month timeline.
But the full completion of port work could be harder to guess.
“Unless Congress says that you can make this correction, you can’t move forward,” says State Representative Lake Ray.
Ray, a longtime port advocate, says they will push through action, but it will be difficult to figure out the best way to achieve that. He says a number of plans introduced through Florida’s Senators and Representatives have met opposition on Capitol Hill- whether through other states competing for port business, or lack of funding.
But in his opinion, this is less a construction and dredging issue and more about maintenance, which shouldn’t have to jump through as many channels.
“The problem there is that nobody’s passing earmarks and they look at authorization as being an earmark,” he says.
He says lawmakers at the city, state and federal level will have to “turn up the noise” in Washington in order to get this authorization sod they can stay in their timeline. A study on the dredging options is set to come down in March or April, and Ray expects at that time the discussion will begin again.
Ray also tells WOKV that after years of advocating for the ports from Tallahassee, he wants to step in to a direct leadership role. He intends to declare to the JAXPORT CEO search committee that he is interested in taking on the position.