The Port of Port St. Joe has for years been identified as a key component to unlocking the region’s economic development

 

 

The Port of Port St. Joe has for years been identified as a key component to unlocking the region’s economic development.

Triumph Gulf Coast has for two years been identified as a potential funding source for doing just that.

The county, joined by the Port St. Joe Port Authority, will submit two projects for consideration during Triumph’s pre-application window a request for funding to assist Eastern Shipbuilding in it plans to expand into Gulf County.

“We all believe that standing up this port, getting it operational, is transformational, not only transformational for the county but transformational for the region,” said Warren Yeager, executive director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition.

And “transformational change” is the mantra of Triumph Gulf Coast, established by the Florida Legislature to oversee the disbursement of some $1.5 billion across an eight-county region in the next 15 years.

Triumph currently has the first $300 million installment of the BP fine dollars, 5 percent of which is earmarked each of the eight counties, including Gulf.

Each county will has an annual piece of 4 percent in the ensuing years; those county allocations represent, in total, just 40 percent of the funding Triumph Gulf Coast will receive.

The Triumph board, which includes Jason Shoaf of Port St. Joe, established the pre-application process last month as a mandatory step for funding out of that first-year allocation.

Yeager said the county would pursue the nearly the entire $15 million, with the hope of leveraging into additional Triumph dollars from the 60 percent represented by the county allocations.

Those dollars would be directed toward establishing a floating dry dock along the federally-authorized shipping channel, a project carrying an estimated cost of $20-$30 million.

Earlier this year, the county received a state appropriation of $5 million toward the dry dock, with an additional $1 million in state dollars for dredging around the dry dock.

The dry dock is seen as the final step toward the long-proposed expansion of Eastern Shipbuilding operations into Gulf County.

Having the BOCC and Port Authority join together on the pre-application is considered another positive.

The two municipalities as well as Gulf District Schools have all submitted letters in support of the proposal.

Eastern has leased from the St. Joe Company a portion of the bulkhead on the former paper mill site for several years and also owns land along the Intracoastal that was formerly a proposed barge terminal for the Port St. Joe Port Authority.

During a special meeting on Tuesday, the BOCC formally received from Eastern officials an “unsolicited proposal” under a Florida statute aimed at facilitating public-private partnerships for economic development.

The proposal is largely exempt from public records, but in short strokes it would be the entry to a partnership by which the county would construct and own the floating dry dock with Eastern as the operator.

Tuesday the BOCC established an advertising and public comment timeline, with the proposal to be taken up in more detail next month.

The expansion of Eastern is seen by local officials as the quickest way to kick-starting port development, a shorter and more direct route than dredging of the shipping channel with the hope that the collaboration between St. Joe and the Port Authority bears additional fruit.

The company and agency each have one client, the same client, an international shipper of wood chips.

The company is leasing a portion of the paper mill site bulkhead from St. Joe as well as a portion of the former Arizona Chemical property from the Port Authority.

One of the mandates in the Triumph legislation is that county commissions consult with other local governing bodies, and partner where feasible, on Triumph projects and applications.

Industrial Park lease

County commissioners approved on Tuesday a lease agreement with Cherokee Air for the Industrial Park in Dalkeith.

Empty the past three years, the Industrial Park has been deeded to the county by U.S. Rural Development.

Cherokee Air entered into a three-year lease agreement, paying $2,200 a month.

The company will create 15 new jobs at the facility and is examining options for expanding its operations in the county.

The BOCC also granted Cherokee a right of first refusal to purchase the Industrial Park.