The Jacksonville Port Authority will pay up front for a $31 million dredging project it plans to begin next year, hoping the federal government will reimburse it in years to come.
The port board approved the idea Monday, also signing off on three state grants that will pay for about $6.2 million of the work.
The money will pay to dredge a 5.3- mile stretch of the river, beginning 14.7 miles downstream and extending to the Talleyrand terminal.
The river bed will be dropped to 42 feet, allowing ships with a 40-foot draft to use the river with a margin of error.
Perhaps more important than the deepening is the widening work that will be done. As part of the project, an area of the river known as the Chaseville Turn will be straightened and widened, getting rid of a bottleneck in the middle of the channel.
Because of currents there, port Executive Director Rick Ferrin said, ships are limited to having a 33-foot draft, requiring vessels using the Talleyrand terminal to come in less than fully loaded.
"Vessels keep on getting larger," Ferrin said. "We need this for our customers."
Under the port's agreement with the federal government, the local authority is responsible for $10 million of the project, with the federal government paying the rest.
But that money isn't expected to be allocated until 2009 and 2010.
Instead, this year, the federal government will pay $5 million and the port will fund $26 million of the work. The port's chunk will include the $6.2 million from the state Department of Transportation.
By paying for the work up front, Ferrin said, the port not only gets the project done sooner, but avoids the possibility of needing to stop and restart the work as funding ebbs and flows.
While there is no guarantee the port will be reimbursed, acting Chief Financial Officer Michael Poole said, other ports that have handled projects this way always have been.
The port will begin soliciting bids for the work in the next two months, with an eye toward the project beginning by early next year. The work should take about six months to complete.
Next up on the dredging front is a project to take the busiest part of the river down to 47 feet, Ferrin said. The Army Corps of Engineers is studying that idea - which could cost up to $500 million - with an answer expected in about a year