Utah, New York firms jointly buy Fernandina Port operator as Chris Ragucci exits

ohpa fernandina port
Ragucci will stay on for six months as a consultant.

Chris Ragucci is on his way out at the Port of Fernandina, opening the possibility of a new era of transparency and cooperation between the port operator and the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA).

Ragucci’s selling Worldwide Terminals to a joint effort of Utah and New York firms called Transportation Infrastructure Partners (TIP). TIP’s split 50-50 between Savage Services in Salt Lake City and Ridgewood Infrastructure in New York City, with Savage being the operating partner. 

OHPA Commissioners weren’t even aware of the sale until this week, which tracks with Ragucci’s act first and tell OHPA later actions seen in other deals, like the one that brought river cruise ships to the Port.

For his part, Ragucci was all smiles at the announcement.

“I think all you agree that no one has more blood, sweat and tears in the success of this Port than myself,” Ragucci said at the latest OHPA meeting.

He noted they’ve more than doubled employment at the Port during that time, from around 30 to around 70 workers.

“From the bottom of my heart, I can tell you this is a great day for this Port,” Ragucci said.

The reach and resources brought by the purchasing firms to the Port are what’s needed to take it to build to the next level, he said.

Worldwide Terminals wholly owns Nassau Terminals, which runs the Port.

The TIP partnership also runs Carolina Marine Terminal in Wilmington, North Carolina, which was a factor in the deal.

“The one thing that really drove me to seek interest in Fernandina is customer sharing,” Savage Operations Director Butch Gilbert said. “We have customers in North Carolina that would like to expand, and we’ve already spoken to customers in Fernandina who would like to expand north, so it’s a great opportunity to share customers.”

Commissioner Miriam Hill specifically questioned Savage representatives on their experience with public port operations, considering the Fernandina Port is publicly owned but privately run and there are obligations to the public, among them, being transparent and cooperative with OHPA as an oversight organization.

“It’s only because Florida’s so just unique in terms of open records and transparency, and it’s very onerous to comply, and there are … pain points,” Hill said. “We have contractors that have a lot of experience in that space, and they kind of know — they expect it.”

Some folks from out-of-state, she said, are so inexperienced it’s like starting from scratch. However, Jared Larrabee, Savage’s Senior Vice President of Strategy and Engagement, said they’re experienced with those sort of issues from their work on the West Coast.

“It’s definitely an area we want to make sure we’re in compliance with…,” Larrabee said.

In a way, Commissioners weren’t surprised by the sale, Hill said, because there were discussions in the past.

“It’s great to meet you all, and I want to get off on a positive foot, but I also think part of that is … honesty and communication, and in the past, we haven’t had that,” Hill said. “There are some existing disputes with the operator — litigation — which I’m sure you’re aware of as part of your due diligence.” 

Ragucci will stay on for six months as a consultant, which is how he came into dealing with the Port originally. He’s still part of a lawsuit brought by ASM Capital regarding alleged underhanded methods he took to obtain the Port operation. ASM Capital secured the services of Ragucci for a business venture involving the ports at Fernandina and St. Marys, Georgia. But in the process, the firm’s lawyers said Ragucci misled it and essentially stole the Port of Fernandina for himself.

ASM Capital and Sanford Scott and Co. sued Ragucci and Worldwide Group in December 2019 in New York. They chose to sue in the 4th Judicial Circuit in 2021 to compel Ragucci’s companies to turn over the records. ASM believes Ragucci stole the Fernandina Port from under it while ostensibly working for ASM.

A judge found Worldwide Terminals in civil contempt in the matter earlier this year, and a hearing is set for Aug. 2.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe

One comment

  • Oscar M

    July 14, 2022 at 2:43 pm

    Wolf is a typical partisan who is just a hack for Hill, the corrupt former JEA lawyer who was terminated from JEA for her rloe in the scandal to bilk taxpayers out of millions of dollars. He does not report the facts and has an axe to grind with Ragucci who has done wonders for Nassau Terminals. Everything he writes should be taken with a grain of salt.

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