Guest Series: Councilman Bill Gulliford

December 22, 2011 13 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville consistently offers the opportunity for our readers to absorb the editorials, personal accounts, and vocal opinions of some of the key players in the decision making process of our community. This week, Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford addresses the future of the Mayport Ferry.

The Mayport Ferry is back on the “let’s close it down’ agenda again. It has been operated by the Jacksonville Port Authority since they took it over in 2007. The City Council dangled property carrots in front of the Authority, in the form of a number of real estate parcels in Mayport to be transferred from the City of Jacksonville if the JPA agreed to take over the ferry operation. The JPA took the bait, even though they probably knew it would likely be an operational loss, which it has been. But don’t feel too badly for the JPA because the enabling legislation now allows them to close the ferry down after running it for a few short years, and they can keep the Mayport property they received from the City Council.

So how much have they lost on operating the ferry? It is hard to calculate because it appears neither side received an independent appraisal on the property that was transferred. Some people claim they didn’t lose anything but actually gained in the process based on the value of the property they received. Who knows for sure? Since they have a great deal of riverfront property unused, fenced off and held for a possible cruise terminal, adding property in Mayport seems to be in the Port Authority’s interest.

The saddest day was when the State of Florida abrogated its responsibility and dropped the operation of ferry. It is part of a significant state road, A1A, and the State of Florida should have continued operating the ferry just like the rest of the road system. Of course the ferry would probably continue to lose money but so do roads and bridges. Resurfacing and repairing them is a major cost and makes roads and bridges a money loser in the strict sense of the phrase. There are other maintenance expenses for both too. The difference is in the accounting and the fact that the public doesn’t normally see the amount of the losses for roads and bridges when they are repaved or repaired. It is always a very significant cost.

Should the ferry close, Mayport will truly become that dead, little village at the end of the road. There is nothing else happening in Mayport. The shrimping industry is reviving elsewhere in the southeast but not in Mayport. There seems to be no place for shrimpers to berth their boats; so much for incentives and stimulus for economic development. We have fenced, unused property on the river, and an industry that needs riverfront access to bring jobs and economic growth to Mayport. Where are the economic development folks when you need them?

There have been plans to change Mayport Village into something of which all of us could be proud; a quaint, historic fishing community with mixed use development. But even with all the plans and promises, Mayport continues to languish. I can remember growing up at the Beach and it was always an attraction to go to Mayport for seafood. Iconic restaurants like Strickland’s and Parson’s were always busy. It can happen again with the right focus and effort. From that success there is an opportunity to build on Mayport’s location and history. It is worthwhile to remember there was a settlement in Mayport three years before the Spanish came to St. Augustine; talk about old neighborhoods in Jacksonville.

It is time to focus on Mayport and stop the lip service. It is a potential jewel in the north Florida crown and its time is here and now.

Editorial by Councilman Bill Gulliford