At Jaxport, Long-Awaited Channel Dredging Gets Under Way
After years of studies, regulatory approval processes, public hearings and litigation, the Port of Jacksonville, Florida (Jaxport) has begun its long-awaited harbor dredging project. The clamshell dredge Paula Lee took her first scoop of the first three-mile segment of the shipping channel on February 3.
Over the course of the next two years, the Dutra Group-operated dredge will deepen the segment by seven feet, bringing the navigable depth to 47 feet - enough for some of the largest container ships to arrive at Jaxport with heavier loads. At present, the neopanamax vessels that are taking over the trans-Panama Canal shipping routes draw too much water to call at Jaxport with a full load. Despite this limitation, Jaxport is already Florida's biggest container port complex, and the deepening project will serve to cement its position as a leader in cargo handling in the Southeast.
“What a huge day for our city, our region and our state,” said Jaxport CEO Eric Green. “Effective federal, state and local leaders working together with our maritime and business communities made this a reality. It is exhilarating to see this historic project come to life to help ensure that we continue to put our citizens to work.”
Jaxport's dredging was almost delayed again by a lawsuit brought by St. Johns Riverkeeper, a local environmental group that sought to block the dredging. Last month, U.S. district judge Marcia Morales Howard turned down the group's request for an injunction. The suit alleged that Jaxport's dredging plan had been reduced to cover 11 rather than 13 miles of the channel, and therefore required a new environmental impact statement. However, as the port and the Corps of Engineers have made no final plans to reduce the scope of work, Howard ruled, there are no grounds for an injunction.
“After a decade of study, independent review, public input and full regulatory approval, it is time to begin this project and bring employment and increased opportunity to our fellow citizens,” said Nancy Rubin, Jaxport's senior director of communications, in a statement after the ruling.