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Originally created 071508

JPA close to Hanjin deal

Shipping officials discussed details

By TIMOTHY J. GIBBONS, The Times-Union

The Jacksonville Port Authority inched closer last week to signing an agreement with a Korean steamship line that wants to set up shop on the First Coast, port officials said.

The company, Hanjin Shipping, brought several executives, as well as engineers, lawyers and other personnel, to town to hash out some of the issues still under negotiation and to examine the likely site for the terminal.

If the ongoing conversation goes according to plan, said Roy Schleicher, senior director of trade development for the port, staff could bring a development agreement to the board this month and have a signed deal next month.

Hanjin officials denied requests for interviews made by the Times-Union while they were in town.

The port is looking to place the terminal on the property where it presently has its cruise terminal, near Dames Point. This is a change since the port signed a memorandum of understanding with Hanjin in October, when the port planned on buying land elsewhere on Heckscher Drive for the project.

"This is the first time they've really seriously looked at the Dames Point site, physically, on the ground," port Executive Director Rick Ferrin said about the visit.

That would place the Hanjin terminal adjacent to the terminal under construction for Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., a $220 million project expected to be finished by the end of the year. One of the issues remaining before a deal can be struck: Mitsui has first right of refusal on the property, which the port is trying to persuade the company to give up.

"There's a number of synergies or economies of scale if two major terminals were operating adjacent to each other," Ferrin said in explaining why Mitsui would do so.

Having both terminals in close proximity to each other promises to generate a massive amount of truck traffic once the operations are up and running. That's an issue planners are already trying to rectify, said Jeff Sheffield, director of planning for the First Coast Metropolitan Organization, which oversees transportation infrastructure improvements in the area.

"We always accounted for two terminals," he said. "We knew another one was coming."

Sheffield is part of a task force created by the mayor's office that he said was focused on finding short- and medium-term solutions for the expected congestion problems.

Before those issues come into play, though, Hanjin and JPA have to come to terms on a variety of issues, including financing the facility.

The money to build the terminal will come from bonds issued by the port authority, a process that acting Chief Financial Office Michael Poole said should go smoothly.

"The market is settling down" from recent turmoil that gripped it, he said. "We still have three to six months before we issue anything."

Poole joined the negotiating team after the departure of Ron Baker, who resigned in the midst of an FBI investigation into contracting at the organization and port board member Tony Nelson.

That departure shouldn't pose a problem, said the executive director.

"I've got a really good team in place," said Ferrin, who in 2005 said Baker's role in negotiating the contract with Mitsui was "heroic." "We have good records; we're all pretty cognizant of what's going on."

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Revised: February 10, 2010 .

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