Capt. Jim Townsend gazed down the dock at the mouth of the Gulf County Canal as it enters St. Joseph Bay last week.

Capt. Jim Townsend gazed down the dock at the mouth of the Gulf County Canal as it enters St. Joseph Bay last week.

“People talk all the time about the distance from here to I-10,” Townsend said. “There is our interstate.”

Townsend Marine was at it once again last week, facilitating the movement of barges through the Intracoastal Waterway via the canal and on to points south.

The work was being done, as Townsend Marine did twice last year, in a portion of the former barge terminal bulkhead the Port St. Joe Port Authority once owned; the new owner Eastern Shipbuilding leases dock space to Townsend Marine.

After two shipments last year of oyster shells, for habitat restoration and chicken feed, last week Townsend Marine was assisting in moving 3,200 tons of rocks loaded across four barges, with adjoining staging barges, on its way to Venice and the building of a revetment.

A revetment, small rocks, mixed rocks, large boulders, atop of rip-rap, similar to that currently bolstering the Stump Hole along State/County 30E in South Gulf County.

In fact, the destination of the barges was an area known as “Stump Pass” south of Tampa.

“They will stage and use it to build a wall,” Townsend said, adding that he is trying to connect Luhr Bros, Inc. the contractor moving the rocks and building the way, with the Board of County Commissioners.

The county has undertaken reinforcement of the Stump Hole several times in recent years.

Last week’s shipment also highlighted the highway that is the Intracoastal Waterway.

The rocks, and the barges, originated in Illinois and traveled the inland waterway all the way to Port St. Joe and onto the Gulf of Mexico.

“From here, the Intracoastal is about 20,000 miles and you can go all the way to El Paso, Texas or all the way to Chicago,” Townsend said. “It is all about commerce.

“If we are ever going to have real commerce back in this community, it will be through this port.”

Some of that commerce arrived in Port St. Joe with the barges.

The barges fueled at Raffield Fisheries, probably about 20,000 gallons Townsend estimated, and the crew bolstered their larder with groceries from the Piggly Wiggly.

“That is commerce to our county,” Townsend said.

His more recent shipment of oyster shells, he added, allowed him to employ 12-15 people for as long as two months.

The shipment, Townsend added, also underscored the value of shipping by water rather than land.

The four barges holding 3,200 tons, he said, represented about 32 semi-trailer loads.

But for each dollar of overland trucking costs, the costs of shipping by barge is roughly 14 cents.

“You just can’t beat that,” Townsend said.

And it is why Townsend remains a diehard optimist about the potential of the Port of Port St. Joe.

From his spot on that dock last week, he could envision the potential and reiterated his favored phrase about port prospects.

“Before I am room temperature we are going to have a port out here,” Townsend said.