The Port of Port St. Joe Authority proposed a public campaign for support week while permitted more breathing room on a potential foreclosure of port land.

The Port of Port St. Joe Authority proposed a public campaign for support week while permitted more breathing room on a potential foreclosure of port land.

The Port Authority was scheduled to hold a public meeting Tuesday as the first step in a community outreach campaign to garner support while navigating what board members believe could be a final stretch of rough waters before development brings harbor.

(The meeting was subsequently cancelled Tuesday afternoon when it was clear that the board would lack a quorum.)

“This is something for which we are going to have to marshal all the troops,” said Port Authority chair Leonard Costin.

When it comes to the so-called Parcel B, the inland parcel along the Intracoastal Waterway that serves as a barge bulkhead and uplands, the Port Authority has a bit more breathing room.

A hearing on a foreclosure application for that parcel from Capital City Bank was continued from last week until September.

The hearing was to be held in March, was postponed while the parties attempted to make a last-minute deal on the $4-plus million note Capital City holds.

The hearing was rescheduled without taking into account attorney schedules, said Port Authority attorney Tom Gibson, and there were conflicts.

Both sides seek summary judgment from a circuit court judge; the bank on the arrears loan and the Port Authority on the argument that it lacked the authority to mortgage the land without a public referendum.

A more immediate and pressing issue, Costin said, is the $80,000, on a bare-bones budget with the port direction making $1 per month, the Port Authority needs to maintain an operational presence.

Costin has pushed for several weeks for the Port Authority to launch a community fundraising campaign.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to generate revenue,” Costin said. “I don’t see any option but asking our citizens top make a tax-deductible donation.”

Donating would be investing in the future of the Port of Port St. Joe and the local economy.

For example, board member Patrick Jones noted that given a county population of 15,000, if the Port Authority could bank $5 for every resident in the county, operational funding was attainable.

“You aren’t buying a tangible,” said board member Patrick Jones. “You are buying an opportunity. We are the little guy trying to make a big impact on the community.

“Is it a guarantee? No. Is it worth ($5)? Absolutely.”

The focus, Jones said, should be formulating a plan to take to the public, presenting the Port Authority’s arguments against the progress of the past year following the signing of an agreement with the St. Joe Company to develop the port.

“Every avenue needs to be explored,” Jones said. “Working together (with cities, county, chambers, economic development agencies) we should be able to achieve it.”

More importantly for the current conversation are two Letters of Intent (LOIs) between St. Joe and two energy companies to ship wood chips through the Port of Port St. Joe.

That news has reignited discussions with government officials, state and federal, on the process for permitting and funding maintenance dredging of the shipping channel to accommodate larger vessels.

The regional impact – the energy companies, for instance, are based out of Georgia and Northwest Florida – also fuels the Port Authority’s argument.

“It does have a regional impact,” said Loretta Costin, director of the Gulf/Franklin campus and vice-president of the Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc. “It is not just Gulf County.”

The Board of County Commissioners recently lent its name to a resolution of support for the efforts of St. Joe and the Port Authority to develop the port.

Commissioner Warren Yeager reiterated this week that he would be taking that resolution to other counties in the region for support.

But for all that future promise, the current picture for day-to-day operations, skeletal to begin with, is bleak.

Lacking a revenue stream, which has already forced a foreclosure proceeding on more than a third of port lands, the ability to maintain a presence on the ground is compromised at a critical time.

“We are so close to being successful,” said Port Authority chair Leonard Costin, adding that it would “be a shame” if progress of the past year is undone by, among other items, an operational revenue shortfall.