The Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation, which has entered into a letter of interest with the Port of Port St. Joe, continues to grow its footprint in Northwest Florida

The Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation, which has entered into a letter of interest with the Port of Port St. Joe, continues to grow its footprint in Northwest Florida.

Holland M. Ware is one of the largest private landowners in the country, with vast tracks of land particularly in the Southeast.

The foundation recently purchased the historic Shoal River Ranch outside of Crestview, a 10,500 acre ranch in Okaloosa County with over five miles of frontage along the CSX rail line and four miles along U.S. Highway 90. The ranch also has miles of frontage along I-10.

The ranch is listed as a “mega-site” by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The purchase extends the foundation’s acreage in Northwest Florida, which includes a recent purchase of over 30,000 acres in the panhandle.

The foundation owns approximately 100,000 acres in the Port St. Joe area and is actively pursuing the purchase of other large tracts, said foundation trustee Brenda Thueson.

“This booming area has so much promise in industry and we are very excited to be part of it,” Thueson said.

The acquisition is also a positive sign for the Port of Port St. Joe.

The port and the foundation have entered into a letter of interest, small caps compared to the more formal legal documents exchanged by the St. Joe Company and two energy companies, to ship through an operational port.

Contingent on dredging of the shipping channel as well as improvements to the rail line between Port St. Joe and Chattahoochee, the foundation expressed a desire to transport aggregate from Georgia for shipping through the Port of Port St. Joe.

In turn, the foundation would send sand from land holdings near Port St. Joe and along the rail line to its plant in Georgia.

Finally, the foundation has an interest in selling timber to be turned into pellets in the factory operated by Green Circle, one of the two energy companies with a Letter of Interest with the St. Joe Company.

In total, the foundation proposes to transport 1.5 million tons of rock and sand annually via the port and railroad.

“We have great interest in the revitalization of the Port of Port St. Joe and even more interest as we discuss the potential of having a heavy bulk port ready by the end of 2014 as well as the understood commitment from the State of Florida to build railroad access,” Thueson wrote to Port Authority chair Leonard Costin last year.

Costin said the letter from the Ware Foundation, “demonstrates a growing commitment by businesses to use the port and (Apalachicola Northern Railway), helping create jobs in several counties in Northwest Florida.”

Holland M. Ware provides a significant exhibit to the case for state investment in dredging the shipping channel and releasing pledged funds for improvements to the AN rail line.

Gov. Rick Scott and state economic development officials have linked dredge funding – estimated at $25 million – and $5 million in Florida Department of Transportation funds for rail improvements to a return on investment.

A recently-completed study of the potential return was deemed “positive” by the consultant who conducted the study, with the potential 10-year return pegged at $940 million or roughly $4.66 dollars for every $1 of state investment.

However, that study only considered two customers at the port – Green Circle and Enova Energy, the two companies with formal agreements with the St. Joe Company.

Those two companies would ship an estimated 1.25 million tons through the Port of Port St. Joe annually, the numbers on which the return-on-investment study was based.

The Holland M. Ware Foundation proposes to double that number of tonnage.

Costin told DEO officials during a recent economic development workshop that he was optimistic the port dredging effort would meet fast-track deadlines.

The hope is to have the permit application submitted by the end of next month with permits in hand by the end of summer.

The Florida Legislature convenes next month and will, it is hoped, take up the appropriation of dollars for dredging, with the return-on-investment study the key document.

Costin said he believed the dredge work could be undertaken by the end of 2014 or early 2015.