Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Jobs May Have Lead Over River’s Health

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.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, ,

Changes at Jaxport Give Me Pause

Just read in a TU article that Tim Murphy, Jaxport’s senior director of engineering and construction, worked his last day at the Port Authority on Monday.  Randy Murray, a senior project manager in the engineering department, also left the same day. Port officials say it has nothing to do with the ongoing FBI investigation, but both Murphy and Murray were involved in the Port’s dredging projects….and there was that little newsmaker of an article about the Port’s dredging contracts involving Subaqueous Services and Sea Tech and an FBI grab of files, if you recall.   

Taking over for Murphy as interim director will be Tony Orsini, who is currently senior director of cruise operations and business development.  Perhaps you remember Orsini from a recent public records lawsuit that raised questions about his E-mail conversations with Eric Green over the proposed cruise terminal at Mayport from this jaxpolitics post?  (Btw, according to Public Trust’s website, the public records lawsuit is still pending.)

Like I said…changes at Jaxport give me pause.

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JaxPort Wins Federal Stimulus Dollars

From The Florida Times-Union:

A project to deepen Jacksonville’s ship channel scooped up $14.8 million from the federal government’s stimulus package, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today.

The money will help pay for deepening a 5.3 mile stretch of the river up to the Talleyrand terminal. Jacksonville Port Authority Executive Director Rick Ferrin said the deeper water will make it possible for ships calling on Talleyrand to arrive and depart with more cargo on board. The depth after deepening will be 40 feet, according to the Army Corps, which will match the depth for 14.7 miles of channel from Atlantic Ocean.

Filed under: Jacksonville, ,

No Cruise Terminal – for now

This morning, Jaxport’s Board voted to drop its pursuit of a cruise terminal in Mayport Village – at least for the time being.  I guess they finally figured out they didn’t have $60 million dollars to build it in these tough economic times. And with the way they are set up as an independent agency with no taxing authority, they couldn’t bond the money either.  Of course they did have that embarrassing E-mail from Eric Green and the Sunshine Law issues and the residents’ challenge to the validity of the UNF economic impact study to grapple with as well.

Here’s the resolution.

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Cruise ship opponents challenge validity of JPA study

Buried in the Shorelines community news on jacksonville.com is this story:

MAYPORT – Opponents of a proposed cruise ship terminal not only put a hold on the plans this week with Florida Sunshine Law challenges, they’re also challenging Jacksonville Port Authority figures that say the terminal would have a positive economic impact.

“There’s been a huge economic impact since Jacksonville has owned the property along the waterfront,” said Michelle Baldwin, president of the Mayport Village Civic Association, which has sued to stop the terminal. It’s a negative impact, she said.

The JPA purchased about 8 acres on the waterfront in June. Baldwin, who represents about 70 Mayport property owners, said the negative impact since then includes moving about 20 shrimp boats from their docks, moving a net-rigging shop to Yulee and closing the Mayport Tavern.

“There’s been an impact to the morale of the village and the way we have lived life down here for approximately the past 200 years as a fishing village,” Baldwin said.

The negatives contrast a University of North Florida study paid for and released by the JPA last month that said a terminal in Mayport could have a $500-million impact on the area’s economy in the first six years of operation.

The study also concluded that a terminal at Mayport instead of its current location west of the Dames Point Bridge would have an economic impact on five Northeast Florida counties. In addition, the study says the terminal would create about 5,000 jobs on cruise ships and in service industry businesses.

But Baldwin said the study overlooks the negatives, and Warren Anderson, an attorney with the Florida Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute, which is helping represent the association, said the JPA is refusing to release details on how the UNF study was conducted.

“We’re frustrated because we haven’t had a chance to look at the report and evaluate it with their own economist,” Anderson said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , , , ,

City and Jaxport sued for Sunshine Law violations

Many people may not be aware that the City and Jaxport have been sued for alleged Sunshine Law violations that occurred when the City turned the operation of the ferry over to Jaxport. At the heart of the matter is whether the City and Jaxport actively tried to hide, and therefore didn’t public notice, the fact that some of the parcels of land turned over to Jaxport in the ferry deal were not necessary for ferry operations, but instead were needed by Jaxport in order to be able to construct a Cruise Terminal in Mayport Village.

A copy of the complaint in the lawsuit filed by Warren Anderson, a well-known local environmental activist lawyer,  on behalf of Mayport Village Civic Association and two Mayport families, recently appeared in Council President Ronnie Fussell’s E-mail Inbox in an E-mail from Cindy Laquidara and it is quite an eye opener. 

Here it is.  It’s 47 pages so give it a few moments to download.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , , ,

Mayport: So much for proceeding slowly

After holding an all day workshop on the Mayport Cruise Terminal, the Jaxport Board of Directors voted to proceed slowly in pursuing building a cruise terminal at Mayport.  

Evidently City Council didn’t get the word. 

In a surprise to the folks involved in fighting against the cruise terminal, the rezoning legislation that would allow a cruise terminal at Mayport was scheduled for Council’s Land Use and Zoning Committee on February 3rd – where it was approved unanimously.

February 4, 2009

Dear Councilman Fussell:

I am an attorney and represent the Mayport Civic Association and other individuals in Mayport.  I am President of the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute.

Despite your repeated assurances that the City Council would not vote on the Mayport cruise terminal PRIOR to the JPA’s own board approving plans to develop a cruise terminal in Mayport, we now learn that you have changed your position and are pushing the land use and zoning matters very quickly — to be held next Tuesday.  I attended the day long JPA workshop last week.  JPA director Ferrin told everyone that pursuing the cruise terminal in Mayport would be a “slow, deliberate process.”  The credibility of your assurances and Mr. Ferrin’s promises now are certainly in question in the minds of many citizens. 

JPA Chairman Mason was quoted last week as saying it made sense for the City Council to hold off on the Mayport matter until the Port Authority made its own decision. There is no way that anyone could lawfully tell you that the JPA Board is going to approve a cruise terminal in Mayport — I honestly believe the JPA Board will ultimately decide against a terminal there. 

We are presently organizing a large number of citizens to attend the council meeting Tuesday night to express their opinions about your change of position, and about the Mayport cruise terminal in general.

I would like to talk to you about this matter as soon as possible.  Could you or your assistant call me on my cell phone — […]?

Warren K. Anderson, Jr.

And here’s another one sent to Council President Fussell on February 5th questioning the legislation and wondering how the legislation got on the agenda in the first place:

RE: Rezoning 2008-893 and FLUM 08-892- Port proposed cruise ship terminal related bills
To Whom It May Concern:
As to FLUM amendment 08-892 up for a Council vote next Tuesday to accommodate a Cruise Ship terminal for Mayport Village, I have been concerned that the FLUM amendment acreage for a proposed cruise terminal is a much smaller land area than the acreage the Port itself previously indicated would be needed for such a use. 
I have had concerns that the small amendment process may be preferred by the applicant just to avoid the scrutiny of reviewing agencies but that it will be followed by additional amendment application(s) rather than full disclosure up front now of the full impacts to the land use map. 
To take it a step further, it appears to me that the proposal may best be studied as a DRI and companion amendment and rezoning to address the regional impacts.  I wonder if that has been addressed? Who made the decision the cruise ship terminal proposal is not a DRI?
I was at the LUZ Committee meeting Tuesday, without an agenda in hand, having reviewed it before my arrival, and something confused me:
Did the LUZ Committee informally add to the agenda Tuesday an item on the port related Mayport cruise terminal proposal?  At what point was that decided in advance to take it up for a vote Tuesday and how was the port group (advocates) advised to know to be present when the public and opponents did not know it was to be up for a vote?
All of the recent news coverage had suggested a hold pattern as to the Port Authority Board’s position on whether or not to even move forward with a cruise terminal…. If the board asked to wait, who decided to move it forward?
Are the port staff and port attorneys still moving forward without the support of their board?
As far as I knew, there was no port cruise ship related bill scheduled to be heard at LUZ by continuation of hearing or hearing set to a date certain of Tuesday, February 3 as to Mayport Village? What action was taken when by whom to get that item before the LUZ committee on Tuesday?
There were no members of the Mayport community or the past vocal opposition present or members of the CPAC 2 in which Mayport is located present or members of the Mayport community present at the LUZ meeting on Tuesday. 
Also, has CPAC of PD 2/CD 11 taken a position? The agenda did not reflect any PD 2 CPAC position which CPAC district is the one that serves the actual location of the port-proposed cruise ship terminal for Mayport Village.
However, much to my surprise, there appeared to be a bill heard on the Mayport cruise zoning issue with a large contingency of Port officials and Port attorneys and advocates for the port’s cruise ship effort present at the meeting —suggesting they were informed in advance that an item related to the port cruise ship matter would be heard, even though the public apparently was not so notified and it was not set on the agenda as an item to be heard on Feb. 3?
Since the advanced agenda gave no suggestion the port item would be up and since no opposition was present in the audience and yet a large contingency of paid port folks were there, I am just wondering how notification went out to the port staff and attorneys but not to the general public or opponents that it would be added to items on the agenda Tuesday for a vote?
Even though there was well known opposition to the cruise terminal, were only the paid advocates FOR the cruise terminal notified the LUZ committee would be taking action on the item Tuesday, without any general public notice or notice to the opposition of record?
Also, the agenda appears to show on the rezoning that the land use amendment is a small scale amendment.  Was a decision made that it did not need to be a semi annual amendment?  Again, I was wondering why a proposal to newly locate a cruise terminal at the Mayport village where one was not previously contemplated in long range planning would not be required to go through the DRI process? It looks like a potential DRI to me–especially with the naval base affected as well as regional transportation and environmental facilities!
Please file this comment for Council review.
 The bills are up for hearing this Tuesday night. 

Thank you, Valerie Britt 

Well here’s how it happened (at least a brief summary of it) taken from the minutes of the Land Use and Zoning Committee’s agenda meeting:

08-893 Discussion was held concerning various options, including deferral; it was stated that JPA was ready to move forward, but did not object to a deferral, and that a new amendment is to be proposed to incorporate additional conditions; the Chair indicated the intent to entertain action to amend and move the item, with previous speakers to be contacted concerning the public hearing before the full City Council

Note the agenda meeting is held at 3:30pm the same day as the Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting – which is held later that same day at 5:00pm.

Funny how it appears that all the Jaxport people knew to be at the Commitee meeting, but none of the opponents did.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , ,

Jaxport appears to have flubbed again

We posted on Jaxport previously with a mention of how it seems to do things backwards.  Well, here’s another case where it appears the Port didn’t do all of its homework first.  Jaxport and its new terminals for Hanjin and Mitsui are expected to be a huge boon in the form of millions, maybe billions, of dollars and thousands of jobs for Jacksonville.   There’s just one problem.  The companies plan to bring all these containers in on post-Panamax ships

Panamax ships (the ships of the size that will pass through the current Panama canal) need 39.5 feet of draft in fresh water (buoyancy is affected by salt water).  Post-Panamax ships need much deeper water (These behemoths allow for more containers to be carried at a cheaper price ).  And so, the Panama Canal is being deepened from its current 41 feet to 60 feet  in order to accomodate these post-Panamax behemoths.  Work should be completed by 2014. 

Jaxport in all of its infinite wisdom is currently seeking to deepen the St. Johns River to a depth of 45 feet from its current depth of 40 feet to handle larger ships.  However, a study recently released by the St. Johns River Water Management District says that dredging the river that deep would damage the St. Johns River by increasing the saltiness of the water – by at least 1/5 according to their report.

 Jaxport once again puts the cart before the horse – it appears they’ll be unable to accomodate post-Panamax ships that will need even deeper water than Jaxport is currently requesting to dredge.  Well, at least they have verbally agreed to go slower on the Mayport Cruise Terminal, but wouldn’t Jaxport need that same depth dredged in the river to accomodate those larger cruise ships, too?

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , , ,

Jaxport to move forward with Cruise Terminal

After an all day workshop, Jaxport board members agreed with their Executive Director, Rick Ferrin, and approved going forward with advertising for a firm to design and build the Cruise Terminal at Mayport.  According to Ferrin, the Board would still have opportunities along the way to halt the process if the design shows construction would be too costly.

Dozens of people from the public spoke at Monday’s meeting. Citizens of Mayport as well as people living in Mandarin, Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra opposed a cruise terminal in Mayport. Carnival Cruise Line employees and the president of the Shrimpers’ Co-op spoke in favor of the terminal.

The people living in Mayport say the terminal will ruin their historic fishing village. Their civic association filed a lawsuit against Jaxport. The groups are currently in mediation.  [CBS47]


City Council is set to vote on the rezoning of the Mayport property at its meeting on Tuesday evening.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , ,

Jaxport Board to discuss Mayport Cruise Terminal

This is just a reminder that Jaxport’s board is scheduled to meet on Monday, January 26th, beginning at 9am at the Jaxport Cruise Terminal to discuss building a new cruise terminal at Mayport.

The board workshop will examine various scenarios for the costs and benefit of the cruise terminal. The worst case would be if the port builds the terminal and cruise ships subsequently stop using Jacksonville, leaving the port with no leasing revenue to pay off the construction debt.

Although Jaxport has already purchased the land for the terminal at Mayport, the board has yet to approve funding for the project.  Given these tight economic times, I guess there may be a possibility that the Board could balk at building the terminal.

Filed under: Jacksonville, ,

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