JPA interested in leasing acreage from Navy

The land is now a fuel storage site for the U.S. Navy, but the port would like some of it for a container terminal.

By TIMOTHY J. GIBBONS, The Times-Union


The Jacksonville Port Authority wants to talk to the U.S. Navy about leasing more than 100 acres of land the military owns along Heckscher Drive.

If it leases the property, where the Navy now stores fuel, the Port Authority would have space for a container terminal facility similar to the one now being built at Dames Point to accommodate Japanese steamship company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd.

Authority Executive Director Rick Ferrin mailed a letter to Capt. Charles King, the commanding officer of Naval Station Mayport, on Thursday, broaching the idea.

The letter is very much a preliminary step, port executives stressed: From King, the letter has to be forwarded up the chain of command to a final decision-maker in Washington, D.C.

"At this point we're trying to get the Navy to say, 'Huh, we'd consider that,'" Ferrin said.

King couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

The Port Authority has been ramping up its search for land in recent years, examining a range of options as it comes close to running out of property.

The need for riverfront land has grown more acute recently. The Dames Point location where the city's newest container terminal is being built was the last large parcel the authority owned, and, at the same time, Mitsui's decision to come to Jacksonville has led to additional container carriers - such as South Korean Hanjin Shipping and Japanese NYK Lines - to express an interest in setting up shop on the First Coast.

Overall, more carriers are looking to establish terminals in the Eastern United States, but most ports on the East Coast have already exhausted their space.

The land crunch in Jacksonville has led the authority to use its eminent domain powers to seize land near its Talleyrand Boulevard headquarters from Jax Maritime Partners and Keystone Coal Co., as well as to look at buying a 185-acre plot of land northwest of Dames Point from developer Abraham Zion.

The idea of leasing between 100 and 150 acres from the military is one that the port has been considering since the beginning of the year.

The property, which is near fuel storage tanks owned by petroleum companies, is used to store fuel used by the military throughout the Southeast.

However, the 11 fuel tanks take up less than 100 of the 244 acres that the Navy owns - and those fuel tanks have to be upgraded in coming years.

Ferrin's suggestion is that the Port Authority help pay for the tank reconstruction, and in so doing, move them to the northeast portion of the site.

Doing so, he said, would free up between 100 and 125 acres along the water, which the authority would lease long-term and use for a container terminal located between its terminals at Dames Point and Talleyrand. Such a terminal, the letter said, could create 6,000 jobs in region, help the authority grow and provide revenue to the Navy.