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First Coast Legislators Pave the Way to Ready Jax for Panama Canal Expansion

May 17, 2012 - 6:00pm

Two veteran members of Congress reached out across party lines to pass an amendment to help commercial and Navy ships navigate the St. Johns River.

While President Barack Obama initially proposed funds in his budget to deal with the Mile Point cross currents that impact the St. Johns, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., joined up to add an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 that would allow states and localities to fund Army Corps of Engineers projects provided reports have been completed. In recent years, members of the Florida delegation -- including Brown, Crenshaw and U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- have been pushing to garner federal funding for the project.

The Mile Point currents, which come in where the river meets the Intracoastal Waterway, limit access to large container ships -- essentially slamming the door on those larger vessels two out of three times.

With Jacksonville looking to ready its port operations for the Panama Canal expansion, currently slated to end in 2015 after an additional six-month delay was announced last month, the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPort) and the state government plan to spend $38 million to help larger ocean-going vessels port on the First Coast. The federal government is not expected to spend any funds on the project.

As a senior member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Corps of Engineers, I have served as one of the biggest advocates for the Port of Jacksonville, Brown said on Friday. I have also worked closely with the U.S. Corps of Engineers for several years to secure authorizing language and funding for the navigational improvements at Mile Point, and I am so pleased that with the passage of this amendment, the port will be even closer to fixing this dangerous problem.

This amendment helps clear the way for the use of state and local funds on the Mile Point project, enabling work to begin immediately on one of Northeast Floridas most important job-generating projects, Crenshaw insisted. JAXPort and the state are prepared to put money forward to begin the long-overdue removal of navigation hazards at Mile Point. The sooner the work can begin, the better. The safe and efficient movement of cargo vessel traffic through Mile Point is central to the current and future economic prosperity and is in everyones best interest.

Earlier in the month, the Corps of Engineers signed off on the Mile Point project and Paul Anderson, the CEO of JAXPort, said on Friday that the amendment Brown introduced would help the First Coast ready for the Panama Canal expansion,

"This is the type of thinking and action that will get this nation moving again," said Anderson. "I have long said Washington must relieve its gridlock or we risk losing considerable competitiveness on the world stage. I commend Congresswoman Brown and our other congressional supporters for their work to find answers and new ideas, rather than doing the same old ineffective thing. Generations of North Floridians will benefit from these efforts."

The St. Johns River has always been a two-edged sword when it comes to Jacksonvilles maritime ambitions. One of the big political issues in Florida during the 19th century was clearing the massive sandbar in the river that made Fernandina Beach the chief port in the Northeastern part of the state for most of that period and led Whigs and Republicans to demand government money to clear the river in the name of internal improvements.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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