Huge cargo ships stocked with items from overseas. Big business. Potential threats to the environment. All are part of the mix as the JAXPORT board announces its desire to dredge the St. Johns River to 47 feet to accomodate what are known as Panamax-ready ships. These are the huge freighters that could be drawn to Jacksonville once the Panama Canal is widened in the next couple of years.
Right now, the St. Johns is 40 feet deep. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is recommending to dredge to a depth of 45 feet to get the maxim return on investment. The dredging project could cost up to a billion dollars and would involve blasting the bedrock at the riverbottom.
Where the funds will come from for the dredging is an open question. The federal government would only pay some of the tab, so JAXPORT would have to seek local and state sources to make up the difference.
And dredging brings with it environmental impacts. Dr. Quint White of JU's Marine Science Research Institute says increased salinity coming into the river from the Atlantic Ocean is already killing cypress tress as far downriver as Julington Creek- and that's before additional dredging would further change the composition of the water.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding a public meeting on the matter, Tuesday March 12th at 6:30 pm at the downtown Main Library on Laura St.