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Port growth could add 50,000 jobs

Challenges include making channel deeper

 

By DAVID HUNT, The Times-Union

 

Within the next decade, there could be 100,000 regional jobs stemming from Jacksonville's port growth, doubling today's working figure of 50,000.

The economic impact of the deepwater system may jump from $3 billion to $6 billion as new terminals come online.

Jacksonville Port Authority Executive Director Rick Ferrin gave those projections to a group of about 180 people Thursday during the State of the Port luncheon at Jacksonville's cruise terminal off Heckscher Drive.

Ferrin said his vision is the "decade of development."

But there will be challenges ranging from building a transportation system large enough to handle increased rail and truck traffic to deepening the shipping channel and relocating the cruise terminal to accommodate larger passenger ships.

The forum was an opportunity for members of the port community to pitch questions about the future of Jacksonville's waterfront.

Within the next year, a 160-acre container terminal is expected to open to support cargo shipping for Japanese giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. Another deal is being negotiated with Korean shipper Hanjin.

The two companies are expected to help triple container cargo traffic by 2011, while boosting rather than competing against companies already doing business here.

In 2007, more than 8 million tons of cargo came through Jacksonville's ports, including more than 700,000 containers and 600,000 vehicles.

Part of the port's future depends on dredging to make room for larger ships. A study is under way to deepen a portion of the shipping channel to 45 or possibly 50 feet to coincide with the expansion of the Panama Canal within the next decade.

Tim Murphy, the authority's senior director for engineering and construction, said the project could cost up to $1 billion.

"It's not something you just go out with a backhoe and start to do," he said.

The authority continues seeking funding for the project.

Another topic discussed was the St. Johns River Ferry. Last year, the authority took over the service, which runs from Mayport to Fort George Island.

Anthony Orsini, senior director of ferry operations, said he's expecting a $300,000 deficit this year, although that's a savings from the $738,000 deficit the city had to subsidize last year.

Orsini said the possibility of moving the cruise terminal to Mayport likely would boost the number of ferry passengers. Plans to move the terminal there have been discussed, but remain undecided.


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