Capital City Bank has long pledged to work with the Port Authority on the mortgage for the barge terminal property along the Intracoastal Waterway.


Capital City Bank has long pledged to work with the Port Authority on the mortgage for the barge terminal property along the Intracoastal Waterway.



This week that help is in full swing.



Working with State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) the bank hired a firm to lobby for a $2 million appropriation in the state budget that awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.



The money would be specifically earmarked to bring the $4 million Capital City Bank mortgage current and provide much needed breathing room for the Port of Port St. Joe.



The money would stop any foreclosure hearings in the courts and would give the Port of Port St. Joe time to generate paying customers.



“This would be huge,” said Port Authority member Eugene Raffield. “This would give us at least two or three years. Bill Montford is in support.”



Capital City has also hired the Tallahassee public relations firm, Ron Sachs Media, to coordinate a campaign called “Protect Our Port” in an effort to convince the governor not to veto the appropriation, as he did last year with a $5 million appropriation for bulkhead improvements.



“We just appreciate what Capital City Bank is doing,” said Port Authority chair Leonard Costin. “This request did not come from us.”



The mortgage on the so-called Parcel B – which is the subject of a foreclosure hearing next week – is one of the most pressing issues facing the Port Authority.



The goal of the “Protect Our Port” campaign, which will include civic and elected officials working with Ron Sachs Media, is to convince the governor that maintaining the port in public hands in the best option for the community, county and region.



“It is important we keep that property in public hands,” said Port Authority member Patrick Jones. “This is important to the community and to the port.”



Time, Raffield said, was not on the port’s side.



The goal is to kick off the “Protect Our Port” campaign this week, complete with a letter-writing campaign to the governor emphasizing the importance of developing the port.



“This isn’t a Port St. Joe issue, this is a Gulf County issue,” Raffield said.



Those interested in participating in the campaign can email the governor at rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com or call the governor’s office at 850-488-7146 to express support for the port land remaining in public hands.



Folks can also visit www.ProtectOurPort.com for additional information.



On another critical issue, port director Tommy Pitts announced during Wednesday’s meeting that a grant for the initial engineering and permitting for dredging the deepwater channel has been made available by the Florida Department of Transportation.



The grant is for $750,000 and carries a $250,000 match which the St. Joe Company, which is collaborating with the Port Authority on developing the port, has expressed in the past a willingness to provide.



“This is a big first step,” Pitts said. “This allows us to get started on the process of permitting.”



Pitts noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which undertakes dredging projects, had suggested the Port of Port St. Joe seek alternate sources of funding any maintenance dredging because the Corps indicated it could not accomplish the dredging in a timely fashion.



Pitts said with the $1 million, augmented by another $400,000 in a separate grant, will get the permitting for dredging underway which would effectively grease the wheels to luring customers. Those customers, in turn, would help underwrite, through portage fees, the dredging.



“We should not underestimate the progress made at this meeting,” Jones said. “These are two big victories, the funding for the mortgage and the dredging. Those are huge.”