If We Want Jax to Thrive Then We Must Support JAXPORT

June 3, 2014 44 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Bruce A Fouraker, a contributing Writer and Editor with Masters of Industry Magazine and lifelong Jacksonville resident, presents an opposing response to the Sierra Club's opposition in dredging the St. Johns River.

The opponents of deepening the St. Johns are exaggerating several possible harms and minimalizing the benefit of having a 47 foot deep channel from the Mayport Basin to past Dames Point.

Addressing the issues mentioned by the Sierra Club's The Port to Nowhere article, point by point:

• Regarding the river being almost 18 percent deeper:  It is only the 800 foot wide main channel that will be 18 percent deeper.  The only way the river would become 18 percent deeper is if the riverbed’s slope becomes 18 percent steeper.  While some erosion will occur, the majority of the riverbed will remain close to the current slope.  

• On the claim that the salinity will increase as far as south as the Ortega River and Julington Creek: A higher level of salinity is unlikely and most areas south of Downtown should suffer little impact from the dredging.  It should be noted that the head of the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) in a Times Union guest column estimates that the increase in salinity south of the Acosta Bridge will be 0.2 parts per thousand or less.

• There was also a statement that we could lose hundreds of acres of wetlands.  This is possible though unlikely and the USACE has a plan to add and conserve approximately 700 acres of sub-aqueous vegetation to replace any Eelgrass that may be lost (there is a very slight chance of this happening).  This is called mitigation.

• There is the claim that salinity increases in the lower five percent of the river’s length will increase algal blooms.  These algal blooms are caused by higher nitrogen levels; this is due to agricultural runoff, over-fertilization of lawns and defective septic systems within the entire 13,000 square mile watershed and not because of salinity levels.

• Ron Littlepage has suggested that a way to absolutely mitigate the salinity increase between miles 24 and 31 from the mouth of the St. Johns is to dismantle the Rodman Dam.  The report by USACE said that while this would provide mitigation, it is a difficult project to plan and complete; therefore, it would need to be done at a later date.  The elimination of this dam is not a dead issue it is only somewhat delayed.

• There is the concern about shoreline erosion due to larger wakes, this is being addressed by AV rated Maritime Attorney Rod Sullivan.  It is likely that the USACE will be required to place bulkheads along the developed riverbanks that are not currently bulk headed.  It should be noted that average bulk heading cost is up to $1000 per linear foot and some of the space along the river is already bulk headed and some undeveloped sections are protected by marsh grass.  The cost of adding these bulkheads should be in the $2.5 million to $5 million range.  The cost of bringing in additional marsh grasses to prevent wetland erosion (if needed) may be another $20 to $30 million.  This could increase total mitigation costs from the currently estimated $83 million to $108 million.

• On the question of jobs created.  The opponents completely ignore that the Martin and Associates Report was peer reviewed by highly respected UNF Economics Professor Dr. Paul Mason.  Dr. Mason states that in reviewing the 2009 Martin and Associates report that he estimates that the deepening will create three times the low estimate of jobs.  This would be mean 19,000 jobs at an average wage of $53,000. This would be at a capital investment of less than one man year for each job created.  Do we believe respected economists Martin and Associates as well as Dr. Mason or do we believe the numbers of Sociology Professor David Jaffe who is outside of his area of expertise?

• On the cost of the $700 million that Ms. Rinaman cites, the USACE will provide about $362 million; this is money that was added to the Waterways Bill through the hard work of the North Florida Congressional delegation.  Ander Crenshaw who serves on the House Appropriations Committee is working hard to make certain the project will be funded.

• In a recent year the Florida Department of Transportation funded JAXPORT at a level of $98 million.  Just three years of funding at this level is $294 million.  

• Even if we get to a cost of $800 million with added environmental mitigation and unforeseen expenses the local share would be only $144 million under this scenario.  The debt service on this would use up less than 10 percent of the revenue from a half-cent sales tax.

• Regarding other ports having a competitive edge.  The channel at Savannah is 33 miles long and is one lane wide.  This means a ship would have to wait three hours for a ship going the other way before navigating the channel.  JAXPORT has a two way channel and CEO Brian Taylor has said this is one of the advantages we will exploit once we reach 47 feet.  

• JAXPORT is within one day’s driving distance or one day’s train trip of 60 million people.  Jacksonville has the best rail and interstate connections in the Southeast.  

• The letter writer said that our water level is too shallow to reach 50 feet when that becomes the standard.  What does this mean?  You reach 50 feet by going down, not by raising the water level.  In fact does she not realize that in the bid to bring a nuclear carrier to Jacksonville, that Ander Crenshaw and Corrine Brown made certain that the channel depth from first channel marker to the naval basin is 52 feet?  This project was completed and this deep water is less than 13 miles from the New Berlin terminals.

• While some Post Panamax Ships will have a 50 foot draft, the majority being built and designed will have a 45 draft.  Thus, the 47 foot channel designed to handle 45 feet drafts and leave 2 feet of water under the keel (bottom) of the ship.

• Regarding the time to project completion.  If the project is fast tracked it could be finished in four years and we could have fully loaded post Panamax Ships calling on JAXPORT.

• The Sierra Club is wrong about the capacity of Port Everglades and Miami being greater than JAXPORT.  The Blount Island Facility is capable of handling approximately 1 million Trailer Equivalent Units (TEUs) per year.  The New Berlin Facility is also capable of handling of approximately 1 million TEUs.  There is space for an additional facility to the north of the current New Berlin Terminal that could handle another 1 million TEUs.  

• JAXPORT CEO Brian Taylor has mentioned several times that it would be more efficient to have the Roll-On/Roll-Off (RO/RO) moved to the Talleyrand area providing even more capacity at Blount Island.

This is portion of the St. Johns scheduled to be deepened.  Since Blount Island is east of the Dames Point Bridge, the clearance of the bridge is not an issue at this facility. Image courtesy of USACE.

Jacksonville’s port has a history of innovation since the 1880 when, as detailed by the Beaches Museum & History Park, the leadership of Jacksonville decided to build the jetties and to dredge through the bar.  This 15 year project opened the door for Jacksonville to become Florida’s premier port.

The innovation continued with the construction in 1912 of the municipal docks on Talleyrand Avenue.  During the 1950’s and the 1960’s at the very beginning of shipping containerized cargo, Malcom McLean’s ships served Jacksonville, New York and Houston.  Of these cities, Jacksonville was the hub for logistics in the Southeastern US and the Caribbean.  

Even before McLean changed the name of has company from Pan Atlantic Steamship Lines to Sea Land, he was shipping containers overland by rail.  The first container train actually operated out of Bayard to Miami on the Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC).  

The loading facilities at Bayard and Miami had no lifting equipment; therefore, the containers were loaded on with the chassis that brought them from the Municipal Docks at Talleyrand to Bayard.  This was a great idea but was ahead of its time, as lifting facilities were not yet available.  The first director of the Jacksonville Port Authority (now JAXPORT), Dave Rawls, foresaw moving containers by rail to St. Louis and Chicago.  He was terminated before this vision could take place.

This changed when a certain port director decided that Sea Land was the port authority’s competitor rather than its largest client.  This was done in spite of the fact that Sea Land finally paid off the bonds on the Talleyrand Docks.  The city and later the port authority had not paid off one dollar of the principal of this debt over several decades.  This is where the port authority lost its innovation and started a continuous game of catch-up.

This is Jacksonville's last chance to regain its former stature as the financial, transportation and distribution center of the Southeastern United States, Caribbean also establish trade with the Pacific Rim.  If you are for Jacksonville having a strong economic future then support deepening the channel.  If you prefer Jacksonville to remain dependent on the Navy and the political whims of Congress, then oppose the port.  It's that simple.

We are poised to be the premier port in the Southeastern United States if we do not let the NIMBYs win this round.

Bruce A Fouraker

Bruce A Fouraker is a contributing Writer and Editor with Masters of Industry Magazine, is a lifelong Jacksonville resident, and has worked in the banking and the legal profession (paralegal/law librarian). Portions of this opinion piece were published in the Florida Times Union as a Viewpoint.