Jacksonville Port Authority seeks to expand harbor in Florida’s largest dredging project, faces fierce opposition
Ed. M. DeHart
Port of Jacksonville
Bigger is better.
With increasing shipping demand between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, ports, harbors, and even the Panama Canal are undergoing expansions to deepen waters and allow larger ships. Panamax and Post-Panamax ships are finding their way into open waters, and have since become the new size standard ports across the globe are racing to meet.
Jacksonville port authority is one of the top three imports in the Southeastern region of the United States. This region, often described as cutthroat and incredibly competitive, is undergoing a deepening of its ports to meet the needs of the new Panamax ships. PortMiami and Port Everglades are already executing deepening of their waters, while Jacksonville Port Authority is fighting to undergo the largest dredging project the state of Florida has ever experienced. However, environmental organizations and individuals alike are fighting the expansion.
The Panama Canal Expansion project is impacting trade across the globe.
To maintain its market share of the Southeastern U.S., USACE Jacksonville is planning a dredging project that would deepen 11 miles of the St. John’s river from 40 feet to 47 feet by 2024. USACE predicted the expansion would cost $484 million, almost $100 million more than the Port Everglades expansion. JaxPort projects over 15 thousand new jobs would be created because of this over the next few decades.
Several groups and individuals question these numbers.
St. Johns Riverkeeper, a privately-funded environmental organization for the St. Johns River, asserts that the USACE’s analysis is incomplete and failed to fully assess the environmental impact. Riverkeeper continues by citing a history of dredging projects miscalculating environmental impacts, and claiming that USACE failed to conduct a multiport analysis. On April 7, St. Johns Riverkeeper filed a federal lawsuit against USACE seeking a review of their Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act, citing, among other things, USACE’s failure to accurately project the environmental impact combined with an inadequate proposal to minimize damage.
Dale Lewis, a retired Director of Strategic Analysis for CSX, is an independent researcher trying to shed light on the matter. He has spent 700-900 hours researching, talking to people and meeting with City Council members. He does not believe that the cargo growth JaxPort predicts will reflect the actual. His research indicates Florida ports have historically predicted faster cargo growth than what was realized. Lewis also points out that the deepening will not provide Jacksonville with a clear advantage since other Southeastern ports, such as Port Miami and Port Everglades, are also deepening their harbors for Post-Panamax vessels. He wants to provide a full picture of the cost and benefits for Jacksonville’s city leaders to have a full picture for the decision-making process.
The decade long discussion to dredge the St. Johns River faces adversity.
Failure to keep up with the globe could cause Jacksonville to lose the market share it has worked so hard to gain over the past 8 years. Thus far, Jacksonville has nearly quadrupled its percentage share of the cargo imported from the Far East since 2008; but if Jacksonville does not with the global trends that birthed the Panamax ships, the port will lose everything it’s gained to rival ports. This milestone is a move to keep the city up-to-date with shipping trends and keep Jacksonville relevant in market presence. Will the opposition stop Jacksonville’s expansion in its tracks?
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