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Amid Dredging Fight, First Ship Through New Panama Canal Docks In Jacksonville

Ryan Benk
JAXPORT CEO Brian Taylor stands in front of the MOL Majesty, the first ship through the new Panama Canal.

The first large freighter to pass through the new, larger Panama Canal arrived at JAXPORT Tuesday.

The landing punctuates an ongoing controversy over intentions to deepen Jacksonville’s channel to accommodate modern mega ships.

Credit Ryan Benk / WJCT News

Massive cranes are pulling shipping containers from the MOL Majesty and loading them onto big rigs.

Last week, the Majesty offloaded much of its cargo in Miami since there was no way a fully-loaded ship of this size could previously dock in Jacksonville.

“Definitely scraping the bottom if they came in fully loaded,” said JAXPORT CEO Brian Taylor. “So ... they go offload at ports that have deeper depths.” 

The port is currently 40-feet deep. Taylor hopes to start deepening the harbor next year, reaching 47 feet by 2021.

“If we are able to generate the business that we expect as a result of this project – deepening to 47 feet — over the next 25 years, the return on this project would be $1 invested (and) returns back to the state and the city: $24,” he said.

But environmentalists are worried about the impact to the St. Johns River. They accuse JAXPORT of inflating that return on investment. The St. Johns Riverkeeper is suing to block the dredging.

Meanwhile, the state recently agreed to $31 million for the first phase of dredging, with an estimated $700 million dollar total price tag to complete the project. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.