Transitions at the port
Let’s begin this review by dividing progress at the Port of Port St. Joe between ground and above.
On the ground, there were positives in the form of continued shipping by Townsend Marine and the arrival and growing operational readiness of the first tenant for the St. Joe Company and Port Authority.
They provided a glimpse at the possibilities.
Above ground, the most dramatic development was with who is navigating the port development.
After years of working, often at loggerheads with other stakeholders such as St. Joe and local governments, the Port Authority was transformed into more observer than player.
And, in turn, an effort to dredge the shipping channel, for which four years and nearly $2 million in public funds was expended, was all but abandoned.
The county applied for and received a $6 million state appropriation for a dry dock project to facilitate the expansion of Eastern Shipbuilding, first announced five years ago, into Gulf County.
The application didn’t become public knowledge until the state budget language was published; county staff updated commissioners in public shortly thereafter.
The Port Authority board, down two members much of the year, could just watch.
In addition, the Board of County Commissioners submitted an application to Triumph Gulf Coast, seeking the county’s first-year earmarked Triumph funds of $15 million for the dry dock project.
The county and Port Authority have entered into an agreement on moving jointly ahead with port development, but the BOCC, which will own the dry dock with an operational lease guiding Eastern, has clearly supplanted the Port Authority as the primary local voice on the subject.
The county has also entered an agreement with the St. Joe Company concerning port development and other projects and partnered with the company on construction of a road linking Port Authority land to the company-owned bulkhead.
Quite a turnaround from five years ago when the BOCC expressed reluctance with even a loan for operational funding at the Port Authority and a couple of commissioners questioned whether anything would come from efforts to develop the port.
The question moving forward is whether of any of those changes, and the agreement moving ahead with Eastern, will truly translate into local jobs, for decades the stated goal of Port Authority and, of late, BOCC.
For at least a decade, this annual review of the year’s highlights has included the port as a critical story: one of these years, surely, everybody will hit a bull's-eye.