In his editorial today, Ron Littlepage wonders about the answer to the question that many of us are askng ourselves – which will the City choose: the river’s health or jobs at Jaxport? I believe we may already have an indication of which way the Mayor is currently leaning.
In 2006, Mayor Peyton proudly announced the River Accord, a 10-year, $700 million program to begin restoring the health of the Lower St. Johns River Basin. According to the City’s River Accord website,the City of Jacksonville, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), the JEA, the Water Sewer Expansion Authority (WSEA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are members of the Accord. Together, these partners committed $700 million to reduce the amount of nitrogen discharged into the river by closing wastewater treatment plants, improving other wastewater treatment plants and building pipelines necessary to reuse treated wastewater for irrigation of lawns, parks, and golf courses, eliminating failing septic tanks, and capturing and treating stormwater before it enters the river. JEA committed to contribute $200 million toward the Accord; the SJRWMD, up to $150 million; the city, $150 million; and the remaining $200 million would be sought from various federal and state sources. Their investments would be the largest in the Lower St. Johns River Basin’s history.
As you may also recall, the St. Johns River Water Management District has already opined that dredging the river to the depth requested by Jaxport would cause more damage than any surface water withdrawals proposed. In fact, the water management district estimated that the river would become 1/5 more salty in a preliminary report issued back in January. So one might surmise that the Mayor would be in favor of supporting the river’s health over Jaxport’s channel deepening request – especially in light of the fact that the City has expended close to $600,000 to fight Seminole County’s request to withdraw 5.5 million gallons of St. Johns River water each day.
But when it comes to the millions upon millions of dollars and thousands of jobs that Jaxport could bring in by deepening the river channel to accomodate post-Panamax ships, I hate to give Littlepage an answer that he may not like, but…I think jobs will win out. I say this for several reasons. According to a Jaxport employee, Jaxport has been planning on post-Panamax ships since 2005 – long before any river withdrawal permits were being considered. In addition, the Mayor had originally been involved in the discussion and the agreement with Hanjin that guarantees them the ability to bring in a post-Panamax size ship. If you recall, he traveled to Seoul to attend the signing ceremony. The Mayor and others have been busy putting together requests for stimulus funding for road projects to enhance the roads around the port, as well. In addition, according to Mayor’s staff E-mails, the Mayor recently accompanied Rick Ferrin, Executive Director of Jaxport, and Herschel Vinyard, Jaxport Board member, to Washington, DC, to meet with Col. Salt, the current Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Works at the Army Corps of Engineers in DC, to discuss port dredging issues. In fact, the Port has already been busy lining up congressional representatives to support having the channel deepened to 50 feet by 2015 – a project that could cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
While I know Littlepage would like to believe that the Mayor would choose the river’s health over jobs, I believe that all of the signs currently indicate that the Mayor may instead be leaning toward jobs.