Jobs at Stake if Jacksonville Doesn’t Dredge

As small ships start to fall out of favor on certain shipping routes, and the Panama Canal Expansion nears completion, a new generation of enormous, super-efficient container ships from Asia will be delivering goods directly to ports on the U.S. East Coast.

The huge vessels, known in the industry as “post-Panamax” ships, will need deeper harbors, a fact that has some ports – like those in Savannah, Charleston, and Jacksonville – competing to deepen their harbors.

Jacksonville, however, is torn over whether or not to go ahead with the $700 million dredging project. They still need an additional $150 million in local funding, while Savannah and Charleston have already secured full funding.

But on the ground at the Port, the decision seems clear. According to a local longshoreman, Vince Cameron, “It’s a do-or-die kinda thing for this port. What’ll happen is, you’ll have ports that’ll be in the Super Bowl of commerce, and ports that’ll be niche ports. And once we have decided that we’re not going to dig out the ditch, widen the channel, to accommodate the new vehicle which is gonna be bringing this cargo from Asia, then we’re saying that we’re not going to be part of the Super Bowl of commerce.”

Cameron has worked at the port for over three decades.

Jacksonville Port Authority CEO, Brian Taylor, agrees. “We talk about a Plan B. And when it comes to deepening the harbor, there is no Plan B,” he says. “If we do not deepen this port, and Savannah moves to 47 feet, we will lose the jobs and the volume and the opportunity to the state of Georgia.”

Taylor asserts that the project will have the added value of capitalizing on Jacksonville’s logistical assets, including quick access to three major railroads and several interstates.

Some question whether or not the huge vessels will even come to Jacksonville, regardless of whether or not the Port is deepened. Additionally, environmentalists fear that the project could cause dangerous spike in salinity that might kill fish and plants in the St. Johns River.

While City Councilman, Jim Love, wants to see the Port deepened, he says that funding is a big issue. States Love, “With the tight budget, we have to figure out a way to find the money. Because it is a big number,” he says.

Add to the price tag the fact that the city of Jacksonville is already in the midst of a budget crisis, owing over $1 billion to firefighter and police pension funds, and you have a City Council scrambling to find new ways to fund the Port project. The Council is expected to make a decision next spring.