Officials with the Port St. Joe Port Authority and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were to meet this week to discuss the parameters of the dredging of the port’s federally-authorized shipping channel.

Officials with the Port St. Joe Port Authority and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were to meet this week to discuss the parameters of the dredging of the port’s federally-authorized shipping channel.

The meeting at Corps regional offices in Mobile, AL were to center around potential modifications to the dredge work as a cost-savings.

“We are hoping to modify what we are doing to lower the cost,” said Port Authoity chair Guerry Magidson.

The meeting arrives just over two weeks after a special meeting during which engineers with Mott MacDonald presented the case for modifications, with the Port Authority board approving an approach to the Corps.

The quick turnaround in response was seen as a positive, Magidson said.

“They support this project, it’s a question of the best way to accomplish it,” said Tommy Pitts, project manager with Mott MacDonald.

“We want to see if we can come up with the best plan for dredging the channel.”

Mott MacDonald recommended two primary changes: reducing the depth for the initial dredging and the timeline for construction of spoil infrastructure.

Reducing the depth, from the authorized 35-37 feet, depending on inside or outside St. Joseph Bay, to 34-35 feet, would reduce the total amount of spoil by nearly 2 million cubic yards.

That would come with an associated reduction in cost.

Ships would still have access, Pitts said, but some larger vessels would need to be turned prior to offload or onload.

Future maintenance dredging could provide additional depth as needed, Pitts said.

Cost savings could also be realized by altering how the dredge project will be performed.

Under the current permit conditions, the entire berm system, five to seven miles in length, must be constructed prior to the first dredge shovel being turned.

The berm structures are destined for two primary locations, the former paper mill site and an already permitted area along the Gulf County Canal adjacent to Highland View.

All the land is owned by the St. Joe Company, the Port Authority’s collaborator for port development.

Building the berms as needed would assist in addressing issues such as seepage and slope stability, as the berms must hold water until clarified as sentiments drop away.

That process of water clarification and release is lengthy, Pitts said.

The hope would be an agreement with the Corps to allow the dredge contractor to construct, at design specifications, the berm work as needed.

That would allow for cost-savings on the immediate build; using a smaller dredge to accomplish the work would not overly impact the time frame, Pitts said.

By controlling the volume of dredged material, the berm system can be constructed to immediate needs without a need for a costly irrigation system, which would be necessary if the entire berm system must be built prior to dredging.

Currently, the dredge project, for some 14 miles of channel, including construction of spoil infrastructure, is estimated to cost $53-$57 million.

The Port Authority has an agreement in place with the Corps to perform the dredging with a $40 million price tag, the estimate for the dredge piece alone.

That, Pitts noted, is revenue the Corps could use to facilitate its operations.

The Florida Legislature has set aside $20 million with local officials hoping for a combination of state and RESTORE Act funds to fill in the gap for the total project.

The port is at least a year out from a dredged channel, but activity is already underway around the port planning area.

A wood pellets company is beginning to move and stage equipment on St. Joe land as well as the former Arizona Chemical property owned by the Port Authority.

Three other projects, referred by the state, have brought site visits to the county, according to the Gulf County Economic Development Council.

If the Port Authority was required to build the entire berm system before dredging, that work alone would require about 12 months.

The dredging, once underway, is estimated to take a year.

In other business taken up during a regular meeting last week, the Port Authority board stepped away from further entreaties to the city of Port St. Joe over possible access to the Jetty Park bulkhead.

Board members said they received a chilly reception when broaching the subject with city commissioners and Pitts added that the Jetty Park bulkhead had been studied before but found to have “limited opportunities” for handling cargo ships.