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First Coast

JAXPORT Announces 'Major Victory' In Federal Funding For River Deepening

Aerial shot of cargo ship approaching JAXPORT

On Tuesday JAXPORT announced it stands to get $93 million in federal funding for the next phase of deepening the St. Johns River to 47 feet from its current depth of 40 feet.

Officials called the funding “a milestone for the project and a major victory for JAXPORT” in a news release.

Of the total $93 million investment, roughly $57.5 million is included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ budget, and roughly an additional $35.5 million is proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget for the coming fiscal year.

“This is the first time JAXPORT has ever received funding in the President’s budget, which speaks volumes about the significance of this project to the Southeast U.S. and the nation,” wrote JAXPORT CEO Eric Green. He said the port generates 138,000 jobs in Florida.

The announcement follows last November, when the U.S Department of Transportation awarded JAXPORT a $20 million grant to enable the facility to accommodate more containers on an expanded footprint.

To date, the federal government, the state of Florida, JAXPORT, and port tenant SSA Jacksonville have contributed or pledged a combined total of more than $394 million toward the cost of the $484 million deepening project.

Harbor deepening is planned for the 13-miles from the port to the Atlantic Ocean. Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are scheduled to complete the first 5.5 miles this spring. Harbor deepening began in February 2018 and is anticipated to be complete in 2023.

JAXPORT says, with Asian container trade up 55 percent in the last five years, the 47-foot depth is required to accommodate more cargo aboard larger ships.

But environmental groups and others have pushed back on the project. The St. Johns Riverkeeper is suing to block the deepening over concerns that it would contribute to harmful algal blooms and exacerbate flooding issues inland along the St. Johns River.

The St. Johns Riverkeeper expects to hear from a judge “any day now” in its lawsuit challenging the dredging project. 

Riverkeeper Advocacy Director Shannon Blankinship says the goal is to force the Army Corps of Engineers to perform more environmental-impact assessments so we can understand how much the deepening will cause flooding and other issues in the St. Johns River and it tributaries that flow through Northeast Florida.

“If we're going to continue to allow a project that will make us more vulnerable in the face of future storms, then the city needs to invest in resiliency, and that means having a chief resilience officer looking at the projects that need to happen immediately to protect us,” she said.