Officials with the Port St. Joe Port Authority came away from a recent meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers optimistic about attempts to address dredging costs.

Officials with the Port St. Joe Port Authority came away from a recent meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers optimistic about attempts to address dredging costs.

The meeting in Mobile, AL among Corps officials was aimed at soliciting ideas to amend the timeline and scope for dredging and, more particularly, construction of spoil infrastructure.

The ultimate goal is to bring down costs of the overall dredging project by tweaking how the spoil infrastructure, miles of berm work, would be constructed.

“The response was absolutely positive,” said Tommy Pitts, project manager with Mott MacDonald, the engineering firm working on the spoil infrastructure design.

“We got plenty of ideas on project modification to bring costs down.”

The hope is to accomplish the construction of the berm work in phases as it is needed, rather than construction of the entire system before one shovel can be turned.

The Port Authority would also like to amend the depth of initial dredging with the goal of having future maintenance dredging push the depth to what is federally-authorized.

Again, the goal, to lower costs of the overall dredging project.

“There is a concern that if costs get too high we might lose some (support in Tallahassee),” said Chris Holley, executive director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition.

State lawmakers have already appropriated $20 million to the Florida Department of Transportation; the Corps has a contract with the Port Authority to perform the dredging for $40 million.

Capping the costs of spoil infrastructure work has been critical to the project, which has leaked over $50 million in total costs.

“I think (state lawmakers) want to ensure if they are going to spend the money there is an end-user,” Holley said.

A wood pellet shipper is already leasing land from the Port Authority and the St. Joe Company, the Port Authority’s collaborator in port development, and is expected to begin operations shortly.

Eastern Shipbuilding and its potential plans to expand in the wake of winning a $10 billion Coast Guard contract, looms in the background.

The EDC has also been busy with scoping and fielding prospects.

Among the ideas tossed around with Corps officials was a phased-in approach to constructing the spoil infrastructure, allowing the dredge contractor to construct berm work as it is required.

Another idea was to have the contractor that performs maintenance dredging in the Intracoastal Canal to perform some of the initial dredging for a portion of the channel that meets the canal.

That would allow the dredging to be started more quickly and the infrastructure built in phases, Pitts said.

“The ideas that came out could seriously reduce the costs of the project,” said Guerry Magidson, chairman of the Port Authority board.

“They seriously want to do this project.”