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St. Johns River Dredging Forum Stirs Up Old Arguments

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Lindsey Kilbride
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WJCT News

St. Johns River deepening was the topic of a public forum Tuesday night in Neptune Beach.  

The Beaches Democratic Club invited a panel of experts to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of dredging near JAXPORT.  

Jacksonville has long debated whether a portion of the St. Johns River should be deepened from 40 feet to 47 feet.

Deeper waterways would allow larger ships to pick up and drop off cargo.

On Tuesday Joe Miller spoke on behalf of Jacksonville Port Authority. He says a deeper port is required to stay competitive.

Miller said, “Sixteen percent of the global fleet today is Post Panamax, and by 2030, 60 percent of the fleet will be Post Panamax. So you can either handle that traffic or you’re out of the business.”

The Post Panamax he’s referring to are larger cargo ships. He says a deeper river would result in 15,000 more jobs over the next 25 years.

But University of North Florida professor David Jaffee says, not necessarily. He heads a port research project and says dredging the river won’t draw in cargo ships from the better-performing Savannah and Charleston ports.

“Whether we have cargo coming through the port is not based on what we say we have, it’s not based on how deep the river is,” Jaffee said. “It’s based on the decisions made by the shippers and the carriers. And the shippers and the carriers prefer the other ports, and they have consistently.”

St. Johns Riverkeeper Executive Director James Orth says the dredge will have significant environmental impacts on the river. He says the environmental-impact study by the Army Corps of Engineers was rushed.

But Jason Harrah, the dredging project manager with the Corps of Engineers, says although the study was cut short, every step was completed.

Lately, there is talk of dredging shortening the dredged portion of the river from 13 miles to 11 miles. Miller with JAXPORT says the scaled-back plan could save hundreds of millions of dollars and lessen the environmental impact.