Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is optimistic a St. Johns River dredging project will bring big business into JAXPORT. The Florida Democrat’s support for the deepening goes against the concerns of local environmentalists, as the St. Johns Riverkeeper is suing over potential environmental impacts.
JAXPORT spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said recently on WJCT’s “First Coast Connect” if the river’s shipping channel is deeper, the city can compete with other ports on the East Coast welcoming big container ships from Asia.
Nelson agrees. “Jaxport is going to beat Savannah,” he said in Jacksonville Friday.
But critics say proponents are over promising jobs and ship traffic, while brushing off negative environmental effects like increased river salinity.
“We believe that the Army Corps of Engineers has not done the due diligence necessary to to truly understand what the environmental impacts would be,” Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman recently said on “First Coast Connect.”
The nonprofit Riverkeeper filed a federal lawsuit in April against the Army Corps of Engineers alleging an incomplete and flawed environmental analysis and inadequate proposed environmental offsets.
Still, Nelson said the pros outweigh the cons. “You always have to question, is the economic value to a community — in this case, dredging further in a channel that is already very deep — is that going to be a minimal disturbance?,” Nelson said. “And my feeling is that it is.”
Jacksonville’s proposed dredge project would deepen an 11-mile stretch of the river at an estimated cost of $484 million, a scaleback of the original plan to dredge 13 miles at a cost of $684 million.
The JAXPORT board of directors recently approved phase one of the project, which will cost more than $40 million alone. About half is federal money, with the rest coming from state and local sources.