Mayor Alvin Brown has named a group of high-profile business leaders—and one strong environmental voice—to the new task force looking at a proposed deep dredge of the St. Johns River channel.
JAXPORT wants to dredge the river down to a depth of 47 feet to attract bigger cargo ships. But there are many questions including how to pay for this expensive project, and the potential impact to the waterway.
Some have also questioned whether dredging the river will pay off in the long term with increased shipping and business.
Jacksonville University marine biologist and task force member Dr. Quint White and Jacksonville Business Journal managing editor Tim Gibbons joined Melissa Ross to discuss the project and what role the task force will play.
Upon naming the 13 member Jacksonville Port Task Force, Mayor Brown said their function will be to
build "community support for JAXPORT’s strategic priorities."
"I think it's still unknown what the point of gathering them together is," said Gibbons.
"Quite frankly, the business community supports this already," he said. "When the idea of the task force was first floated there was some sense that it would be more of a discussion sort-of thing, not simply a 'rah rah JAXPORT.'"
Dr. Quinton White, executive director of Marine Science Research Institute at Jacksonville University said he hopes that discussion will not solely focus on the deepening project, but the role of the port as a whole.
"I think they all have a great deal of intelligence and respect for the river," he said of his fellow task force members. "Nobody wants to hurt the river."
'It's a very very complex issue," White said, adding that in discussions with Mayor Brown they have talked about the task force working for as long as a year.
One big question the task force will likely try to answer is how to pay for the proposed harbor deepening. The port will pay for pre-construction and design, but Gibbons called that cost a "drop in the bucket" compared to the estimated $371 million in local costs for the project.
In an email, St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinamin said the task force's mission appears to be to build support for the port's priorities, not determining if the port's priorities match the city's priorities.
"I hope the task force will have a broader reach than that," White said.
"I know we need to have a viable port, but is harbor deepening the only way to do that?" he said, identifying one question he will be asking when the task force convenes.
You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.