Putnam port study measure departs for final House committee berth
The keywords for JAXPORT — 'river deep.' Image via Jacksonville Port Authority.

To improve its barge port, inland Putnam County hopes to be added to the state seaport council.

Legislation asking the state to consider expanding the shipping facility in Putnam County was shipped to its final House panel.

The proposal (HB 907) from Rep. Bobby Payne would allow Putnam County to request a grant to conduct a port feasibility study and add the county to the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development (FSTED) Council. Members of the House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee voted unanimously and without comment on Monday to advance the bill.

The Republican’s hometown of Palatka, along the St. Johns River, is home to the Putnam County Barge Port.

The Putnam County Commission has plans, with help from the Army Corps of Engineers, to dredge a 12-foot-deep, 5,000-foot-long channel. The channel would improve vessel navigation and safety and increase the number, size and capacity of vessels using the barge port.

Storms over the last 10 to 15 years have filled the previous dredging with silt to its current depth of 7 feet, TranSystems Vice President and former JaxPort CEO Rick Ferrin told the Putnam County Board of Commissioners in December.

“At that very shallow depth, it precludes use by anything other than very shallow-draft barges and recreational vessels, and that doesn’t do much for business,” Ferrin said.

Payne’s bill would, until July 2024, allow Putnam County to apply for a feasibility study over the possibility of establishing a port in the county. If the study comes back unfavorably, Putnam County would be removed from the FSTED Council.

Representatives from Florida’s 15 public seaports plus the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Department of Economic Opportunity currently comprise the FSTED Council.

The FSTED Council, housed within FDOT, helps implement seaport capital improvement projects at the local level. Grant funding under the program is limited to specific types of port facilities or port transportation projects. Included within that list is seaport master or strategic plan development or updates.

Since the Legislature established the council in 1990, the council and grants have been largely responsible for the growth of Florida’s seaports, Ferrin said in December.

“We’re not talking about tens of millions of dollars that have gone to ports or even hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone to ports. We’re talking about billions of dollars that have gone to Florida ports,” Ferrin said. “When you take a look at where the ports are today and where they were in 1991, the growth is absolutely immense.”

A nearly identical bill (SB 1038) from Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry, whose district includes Putnam County, has set sail through the Senate committee process. It passed from the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Thursday, readying it for its final Senate hearing, which is to take place in the Senate Rules Committee.

The House bill next heads to the House Commerce Committee, its final committee stop before it is ready for consideration on the House floor.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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