Dredging issues remain complex in Jacksonville

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A Thursday public notice meeting between Jacksonville City Council President Lori Boyer and VP John Crescimbeni attracted media attention because of the subject line: dredging.

However, the subject was not the proposed channel deepening for JAXPORT purposes, but a so-called “zoo dredge.”

The problem?

Navigation issues from the water taxi and other recreational boats at the dock by the zoo.

A dredge was considered earlier in the decade; a cost estimate from 2012 ran in the $900,000 – $1 million ballpark.

Of course, there were caveats that scotched the deal.

One major one: it would be impossible to determine how long the dredge would last for. Speculation at the time, via the engineer, was that it could last a “few years,” Crescimbeni said.

Not a good ROI for what would have been the bulk of the city’s FIND award.

Crescimbeni was pessimistic that the ROI would have substantially changed in the interim, though he was willing to discuss a “comprehensive dredging program.”

While bigger tributaries are getting attention through FIND monies, an issue is the “silting” in of the smaller ones, creating a situation that struck Boyer as analogous to that of the Keystone Lakes, which are drying up.

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, noted that other factors can impact the efficacy of a dredge, including runoff from adjacent properties.

Crescimbeni discussed more potential issues with a dredge at the zoo dock, including the dock being so far off the channel, and the tide sweeping perpendicular to the dock.

A more quotidian solution was proposed by Boyer: extending the dock.

At the zoo, Alicamani boat ramp, and a few other locations, the city built docks only to find their usage limited by the silting issues.

The city will have to deal with these smaller channels, even as the much larger channel deepening for JAXPORT looms.

In Jacksonville this week, Gov. Rick Scott expressed commitment to the project.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we have the state funding. I’ve already been talking to the federal government — the Trump administration about the federal funding. So as long as we have the local funding, which I think Lenny Curry is very supportive of that, I think we’re going to get a lot of good things done at JAXPORT,” Scott said.

Scott’s new budget has $176 million for ports, and — crucially — $31M for the long-delayed dredging of the river to deepen the channel for bigger PANAMAX ships.

Jimmy Orth of the St. Johns Riverkeeper group raised concerns this week about the dredging.

While the Riverkeeper has been much more skeptical about the project than local politicians, these concerns are backed up with new data, Orth said.

Dale Lewis, retired Director of Strategic Analysis for CSX, shared information with us that we believe validates our concerns that the economic projections for the dredging project have been significantly overstated,” Orth wrote.

“Competitive projects now planned across the Southeast region’s ports would generate about 3M TEUs of excess capacity, for over 10 years. This comes from a combination of the existing ports, plus a new port on the Savannah River,” Lewis asserts.

“Jaxport would be the last increment of capacity added to the existing ports,” Lewis wrote, while “Savannah and Charleston plan to build the Jasper Terminal, to protect market share beyond 2030.”

In terms of imports for Atlanta or Miami, Lewis states that Atlanta is more conveniently served by Savannah, while Miami has its own port capacity.

The Lewis analysis notes that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a less optimistic view of market share growth than JAXPORT’s own analysis.

“In asking for funding, Florida Container Ports routinely forecast 40% to 70% growth over the next five years; in reality, they deliver about one quarter of this level,” Lewis notes.

The JAXPORT dredge, should it actually manifest, would have effects on tributaries — some that can be forecast, such as increased salinity, and some that can’t.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski



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