In his new role with the engineering firm working on a dredge permit application for the Port of Port St. Joe, former port director Tommy Pitts said he’s learned about seeing “opportunities” in “challenges.”

In his new role with the engineering firm working on a dredge permit application for the Port of Port St. Joe, former port director Tommy Pitts said he’s learned about seeing “opportunities” in “challenges.”

And the recent work on the dredge permit, Pitts said, is revealing “opportunities.”

Two of those opportunities in the near term were discussed last week during the regular bi-monthly meeting of the Port St. Joe Port Authority.

The first is the discovery that the volume of material to be dredged from the federally-authorized shipping channel is greater than initially estimated.

The second is the realization that erosion has extended the tip of St. Joseph Peninsula into the boundaries of the shipping channel.

Both factors present challenges as the work on the dredge permit progresses with goal of submitting at least a partial application by March 1.

“We are progressing,” Pitts said. “A long list has been accomplished and much of the work that has been done is to determine what is out there.

“We have discovered some opportunities to solve some problems and address some issues.”

That there is a larger volume of material than anticipated could likely impact the scope due to costs.

The amount of material grows exponentially with every foot dredged beyond a minimum of 33 feet, Pitts said, indicating the Port Authority could change due to the costs attached to dredging and disposing the material.

For example, to dredge to 33 feet would produce an estimated two million tons of spoil. That number jumps to three million at 34 feet and four million tons at 35 feet, the federally-authorized depth.

The costs involved with going to the 35 feet could mean the Port Authority considers dredging to a slightly shallower depth.

Pitts said discussions are ongoing with the St. Joe Company, which has two signed Letters of Intent from energy companies to ship through the Port of Port St. Joe, on what would be a minimum to meet the goals of those LOIs.

Billy Perry with Hatch Mott MacDonald said the answer could be down the road. Once the channel is dredged even to 33 feet and the port is operational it becomes an authorized project and presents the opportunity to dredge deeper at a later time.

“The more depth you have the more vessels you can attract,” Perry said. “But you have look at it from a realistic standpoint of what you can accomplish.

“Once it is dredged it becomes a (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) project and as revenue is generated there would be an opportunity to get additional depth at a future date.”

To counter the erosion of the peninsula tip now in the shipping channel, engineers are proposing an option of creating additional depth outside the shipping channel to allow vessels to turn, thus allowing the dredge work to effectively carve around the tip.

“We are not sure that would be acceptable,” Pitts cautioned. “But modification could lead to a U.S. Army Corps process.”?

And therein lay the significant hiccup on both issues.

A modification to the shipping channel in any form could mean triggering a Corps review and assessment, which could extend the time of permitting out at least another year, Pitts said.

“We are trying to iron that out; we are not changing the shipping channel itself,” Pitts said.

Due to those issues – and others pertaining to disposal sites, which Hatt Mott is working with the St. Joe Company on – officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection encouraged the submittal of at least a partial dredge permit application by the original deadline of March 1.

“That way we can begin to resolve issues while continuing with the other components,” Pitts said, noting that the portion of the application submitted would pertain to the shipping channel and dredging, two major components.

Perry added, “We have been encouraged to follow that process because of the multiple components. The state could act quickly on the dredge component which engages the Corps” which would perform the dredging.

Port Authority chair Leonard Costin said while the research on the dredge permit brought some challenges to light, the timeline of a dredge permit this summer and a dredged channel by early 2015 was doable.

“I think we can work through all this,” Costin said. “I hope we can.”

Perry said the timeline remained viable.

“I think that is achievable,” he said.