Port Authority seeks grant to help fix issue with river currents

By David Bauerlein Story updated at 4:22 PM on Monday, Mar. 23, 2009

The Jacksonville Port Authority board voted today to seek a state grant for designing a costly fix to strong currents that prevent larger ships from traveling the St. Johns River where it meets the Intracoastal Waterway.

Currently, many ships can only journey through that waterborne intersection during twice-daily high tide conditions. But for about 16 hours a day, the currents can be so strong they shove ships in a sideways direction, making it unsafe for vessels needing at least 33 feet of water to use the channel in that part of the river.

The limitation is a major obstacle to Jacksonville expanding its cargo container business and achieving the same level of activity as ports in Savannah, Ga. and Charleston, S.C.

JaxPort will pay $600,000 as its share of a $2.4 million design study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a remedy that would weaken the currents by altering the Mile Point Training Wall, which directs the flow of water at the river’s junction with the Intracoastal Waterway.

The JaxPort board voted to seek $300,000 from the Florida Inland Navigation District to pay part of the Port Authority’s cost of the design study.

After the design is finished, JaxPort would seek federal funding for construction, estimated at $60 million. JaxPort would pay $15 million of the tab and the federal government would pay the rest.

The goal is to finish the work by the end of 2011, though that would be an aggressive timetable, said Tim Murphy, senior director of engineering and construction for JaxPort.

“There are numerous boxes that need to be checked between now and 2011,” he told the board.

The work at Mile Point would be on top of an even costlier harbor deepening project that JaxPort also needs to reach the top tier of East Coast ports. The channel deepening would cost an estimated $500 million and would also require obtaining federal money matched by JaxPort financing.


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