Port St. Joe Port Authority chair Leonard Costin talked last week about the work the board is doing to try to make the “impossible possible.”
A letter approved and forwarded to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brings the possible significantly closer.
The letter was sent to the regional Corps Office and begins the process of entering an agreement that would put the Corps as lead on the dredging of the federally-authorized shipping channel while the Port Authority and its engineer concentrate on permitting for spoil disposal.
An agreement, or Letter of Intent, with the Corps also brings a fixed cost and a schedule.
Under the agreement, called a “contributed funds agreement,” the Port Authority would provide the funding and the Corps would continue the work on securing a dredge permit and subsequently contract out the project.
The letter is non-binding. The Port Authority is held to nothing if it can not secure state funding for the dredging.
The cost of the dredging would not exceed $40 million, Costin said.
“It is more than we expected, but it is a not to exceed number,” Costin said. “The letter commits us to nothing. We are simply moving forward with the letter.”
While the initial estimate was $25 million, the increase in the total cost was due, Costin said, to inaccurate numbers on the amount of spoil that would be produced during dredging.
Engineers working on the dredge permit found the actual amount of spoil to be nearly four times that estimated based on initial numbers provided by the Corps, said Billy Perry with Hatch Mott MacDonald, the Port Authority’s engineering contracted firm.
The time provided by the Corps would have the shipping channel dredged to the full authorized depth of 37 feet – requested by companies with Letters of Intent to ship wood chips through the port – by the fourth quarter of 2015.
Permits would be in hand by September, Costin said, with contracting for the work by March 2015.
Not as soon, the first quarter of 2015, as initially hoped, Costin noted, but within the calendar year 2015 and in time to meet the projections of Enova and Green Circle, the two energy companies with LOIs, Costin said.
“The longer lead time may actually help with costs,” said Tommy Pitts with Hatch Mott MacDonald. The longer lead time, he said, would likely bring more flexibility, and less cost, in lining up necessary equipment.
The agreement with the Corps brings several positives for the Port Authority.
First, it defines the cost and timeline for dredging as the Port Authority seeks legislative funding for the project, deemed integral to any development of the Port of Port St. Joe.
Secondly, the Corps would take over work on the dredge permit. The permit is the largest and most central component on permitting the entire project, Pitts said.
The Corps would essentially take over ownership for the voluminous material created and gathered by Hatch Mott MacDonald for the dredge permit and continue the work, using over $400,000 in federal funds which were earmarked several years ago to aid in development of the Port of St. Joe.
Pitts said Hatch Mott MacDonald was already receiving inquiries and requests for additional information on the dredge permit application from state and federal agencies.
In turn the Corps would be responsible for bringing the project to fruition at the agreed price and within the agreed timeline under the final agreement when it comes back to the Port Authority from the Corps.
Thirdly, with the Corps performing those significant functions the possibility the project would be subjected to a Section 408 review – the Corps must study any project which might impact another Corps project – which would push the time for a permit and dredging out at least another year, Perry said.
Further, with the Corps doing the work the issue of how to slightly detour around the point of St. Joseph Peninsula – where erosion has encroached on the shipping channel – will be solved by the Corps.
“This is the most expeditious manner to get to the end result of a permit,” Perry said. “It makes plenty of sense. This looks like the route to go.
“Nothing has changed as far as tasks. (For the dredge permit) the Corps would use what has already been done which is the lion’s share of the work. There is a lot of positives to it.”
And turning the nuts and bolts of the dredge work over to the Corps frees Hatch Mott MacDonald to concentrate solely on permitting and subsequent construction of the disposal sites to be used for the spoil.
On that side, the Corps is also lending a helping hand.
Perry said indications are the Corps is receptive to use of a section of the Gulf County Canal and contiguous wooded wetlands in Highland View and surrounding areas for disposal.
If those areas can be used it would reduce the costs of disposal and would speed permitting as they are already identified by the U.S. Army Corps as spoil disposal areas.
The dollars for the disposal work are not figured in the $40 million cost of dredging. That number will not be known for a couple of months, Perry said, but he tossed out $5 million as in the neighborhood.