Port St. Joe city commissioners boarded the port bandwagon pushing forward for jobs Tuesday night.
Commissioners unanimously approved a request from Commissioner Rex Buzzett to carve out $10,000 from the city’s settlement with BP – which totaled more than $500,000 – to provide operational funds for the Port St. Joe Port Authority.
“If we get that port going… it will be all about jobs,” Buzzett said. “They need our help… I think it will come back to the city many times over if we get that port going.”
Commissioners earmarked that the funds be spent on dues to the Florida Ports Council and to pay the liability insurance for the Port Authority board.
The dues for the Florida Ports Council, the lobbying organization for state ports, are crucial, said Port Authority chairman Leonard Costin.
The Port Authority still owes half its $13,000 in dues from the last fiscal year and the key to being at the table for state funds, and in turn any federal funds those state dollars can leverage, is as a dues-paying member of the Council.
With a Ports Council meeting coming soon, Costin said, the Port of Port St. Joe was better positioned not going “hat in hand, so to speak.”
“We are down to the point where we are trying to raise any money we can,” Costin said, speaking about a community outreach campaign to fund a bare-bones budget for the current fiscal year. “The only thing we have going right now in economic development is the port.
“We have to stay the course and any support you can offer is greatly appreciated.”
Costin said there was a two-year window during which the port will strive to accomplish dredging of the shipping channel to maximize some $17 million in infrastructure that exists along the 300 acres the Port Authority owns.
“After that I think you will see quite a bit of activity and exponential growth,” Costin said.
Commissioners Phil McCroan and Bo Patterson expressed skepticism, noting the investment that has occurred at the port in the past decade without much if any progress.
“People just want to see some action,” McCroan said.
Costin replied that the key difference now was the collaboration agreement with the St. Joe Company.
Until the Port Authority and St. Joe signed a formal agreement, the company and Port Authority had butted heads on how the port and surrounding lands would be developed.
St. Joe was now committed to developing the 5,000 acres it owns along the Intracoastal Canal as well as the old mill site and bulkhead, and is collaborating in the development of the 100 acres owned by the Port Authority.
“St. Joe, that is the changing factor in what we are doing now,” Costin said.
And as the government entity to which state and federal funding would flow, the Port Authority played a pivotal role simply by remaining active.
Costin noted that port director Tommy Pitts has taken other employment (see related story this page) and administrative assistant Nadine Lee was working strictly as a volunteer.
“We (the Port Authority) is pitching in any way we can,” Costin said, adding the Port Authority was also receiving considerable in-kind assistance from the Economic Development Alliance. “They are helping us any way we can.
“I just think we all need to think together on this, the city, the county and as a region.”