Stimulus money coming to complete Jacksonville port project

Federal aid to boost channel's accessibility, but no funds for beaches.

By Carole Fader
Yes to Jacksonville harbor deepening. No to beach renourishment.

That was the final say from the U.S. government to the Jacksonville district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on using some of the $787 billion taxpayer-funded economic stimulus money for two big area projects.

A total of $14.8 million will to go to finish deepening the Jacksonville harbor to 40 feet to provide an accessible channel for larger ships to visit the port, according to a list supplied to the Times-Union by the Corps.

“This is for the last 5.5 miles of the project, from the BP Oil terminal to Talleyrand,” said Jerry Scarborough, chief of Coastal/Navigation and Antilles Branch of the Corps’ project management division. “Larger ships will be accommodated. And ships that had to light load before and make several trips because of depth restrictions will now be able to fully load. It’s much more efficient.”

In addition, another $1,235,000 of stimulus funds will go toward continuing a study to see if an even deeper channel could result in Jacksonville port expansion and ultimately more jobs in the area.

And that’s a major purpose of the economic recovery program championed by President Barack Obama — to support projects that will create jobs, grow businesses and encourage spending.

The Fernandina Beach harbor also received funds — $1,675,000 to restore it to its authorized dimensions to serve commercial cargo as well as the Navy, which shares the entrance channel.

But renourishment for the Jacksonville shoreline, a project Scarborough said is much needed to protect the beach from storm damage, received no taxpayer dollars. 

Citing a long-standing federal policy, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget has balked at approving money for the nationwide beach-fill projects, according to a story last month by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Environmentalists and others have criticized beach fill as a taxpayer subsidy that induces risky development, benefits wealthy property owners and, in the long run, is quixotic, given the rising sea level, the Inquirer story said.

Although there’s no money yet to pay for it, the Jacksonville beach project is on the Corps’ books for 2010. Scarborough said the Corps is now banking on a congressional appropriation, which often pays for such projects.

Indeed, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla, has requested $6.8 million for Jacksonville beach renourishment in his fiscal year 2010 appropriations list, according to his office. Still, funding isn’t guaranteed until Obama signs the federal budget. The government’s 2010 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2009.

As far as other area shorelines, St. Johns County beaches soon will get a facelift thanks to federal money approved after damage from last year’s Tropical Storm Fay, Scarborough said.

Stimulus money ($452,000) also will go to continue a feasibility study for future renourishment of St. Johns County beaches from Summer Haven to Ponte Vedra Beach, which is not part of the other project.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., also has included $700,000 for a St. Johns County beach-fill project in his fiscal year 2010 appropriations request listed on his Web site.
A large Nassau County beach project was completed in 2008, Scarborough said.
Other stimulus-funded Corps projects that have area impact:

u25A0 Maintenance of the Intracoastal Waterway around Palm Valley, restoring it to authorized dimensions for cargo transit and growth of small business ($4.2 million).

u25A0 Construction of a disposal site for dredged materials, which will prevent delays of waterway maintenance from Jacksonville to Miami ($2 million).

u25A0 Removal of nuisance aquatic growth from the upper St. Johns River, which serves as a nursery area for vegetation that floats downstream and hampers navigation ($225,000).

 

 

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