Jacksonville, FL - A long awaited step forward for dredging Jacksonville’s ports.
The Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s report on deepening shipping channels in Jacksonville from 40 feet to 47 feet has now been delivered. The report was supposed to take more than another year to complete, but Presidential action speeding up progress on transportation projects cut the timeline down.
“Now we can move forward with the ‘Water Bill’ that was waiting on Jacksonville,” says Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
The report was the main obstacle preventing dredging from getting in the bill, which is still in conference committee. Lawmakers did not want to grant authorization without the report in. Brown says all the steps have now been taken to get dredging in the bill, which is expected to be finalized within a month and then go up for a vote in front of the House and Senate.
JAXPORT says they will begin the pre-construction design phase as early as June using existing funding. Pending Congressional approval, dredging could start in 2016 and be completed by 2019-2020.
“That would be consistent with other ports in the South Atlantic and allow us to compete effectively,” says JAXPORT CEO Brian Taylor.
Deepening the harbor has been a key concern in keeping the port competitive because there is not enough clearance in Jacksonville right now for the newer, bigger, deeper cargo ships to travel. He says companies were already looking at Jacksonville, and this authorization will be the needed step forward in recruiting them to locate on the First Coast.
Taylor says dredging will also lead to some 14,000 jobs created mostly in Northeast Florida over the next two decades.
“For us to be able to move the ball down the field when many people said we would get outside our 20 is amazing, and now we’re in the red zone,” says JaxChamber CEO Daniel Davis.
The “Water Bill” would lay out federal funding for this program, which will cost $684 million overall. The needed state and local funding has not yet been secured.
“We’ll have skin in the game, you can take that to the bank,” says Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.
He says a newly created Ports Task Force will immediately begin to look at how the city should pay its share. He further says the Governor has consistently shown support for Jacksonville’s ports and believes that support is part of what convinced the federal government to move ahead with our local project. A trip to Washington DC by JAXPORT, the Mayor, and many business leaders in Jacksonville is also being touted as a large reason for the rush in the report and this pending authorization.
The “Water Bill” also contains authorization to being the Mile Point project, correcting a dangerous area of cross currents that prevent some of the bigger ships from coming in for all but a few hours each day.