The St. Joe Company last week announced another agreement that offers opportunities for growth at the Port of Port St. Joe, provided maintenance dredging of the shipping channel can be accomplished.
St. Joe announced it had signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Enova Energy Group that could lead to the shipping of a minimum of 1 million metric tons per year of wood pellets through the Port of Port St. Joe by way of the AN Railway.
The wood pellets would be shipped to overseas markets.
Enova also has interest in using or developing facilities provided the Port of Port St. Joe can accommodate the vessels need for the shipment of commercial wood pellets.
Enova is a full service, clean energy development company specializing in development and operations of contracted renewable based assets. The LOI with St. Joe contemplates economic development opportunities for Northwest Florida, including the potential to bolster usage of the AN Railway and make the Port of Port St. Joe operational.
This is the second LOI signed by St. Joe with an energy company in the past two months. The agreement with Enova is similar to an LOI signed with Green Circle Bio Energy, Inc. last month.
That LOI anticipated Green Circle would establish a wood pellet site along the AN Railway and ship up to 300 million metric tons of pellets through the Port of Port St. Joe, contingent on the completion of maintenance dredging.
"We welcome Enova to the Port of Port St. Joe and are excited about the opportunities they will bring to the Port," said Leonard Costin, chairman of the Port St. Joe Port Authority. "The Port Authority's number one priority is to create jobs for the region. This letter of intent with Enova is key to helping us reach this goal."
Maintenance dredging is critical to the LOIs with Enova and Green Circle.
Port director Tommy Pitts said the port is moving along parallel paths to secure maintenance dredging, permitting and funding, with the goal of accomplishing the task within the next two years.
As noted by the Florida Ports Council in its annual report, the Port of Port St. Joe is “well-positioned” for bulk cargo shipments given the access to rail, the Intracoastal Waterway and state and federal highways.
The port has a navigational channel that is federally authorized to a maximum of 37 feet.
Pitts said during a recent Port Authority meeting that the goal would be to initially dredge to a minimum of 33 feet with the ultimate goal the authorized depth.
Dredging the channel to the authorized depth will open “many new opportunities” for the port, Pitts said.
The LOI between The St. Joe Company and Enova Energy Group, as with Green Circle, is contingent upon the Port of Port St. Joe receiving funding to complete maintenance dredging of the shipping channel.
"Adequate infrastructure is paramount to bringing new business and jobs to Northwest Florida," said Park Brady, CEO for The St. Joe Company. "The prospective rail improvements to the AN Railway are critical to open doors for economic development for the Port of Port St. Joe and surrounding areas. The last major hurdle to an operational port and new jobs is the necessary dredging improvement to the shipping channel."
Those rail improvements would be funded by a $5 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation. That grant was secured, but is currently on hold pending further state review.
The FDOT has made available to the Port of Port St. Joe a $750,000 grant for the engineering and permitting of dredging of the ship channel.
That grant comes with a $250,000 local match and the Port Authority and St. Joe Company are working on the details of that local match.
In addition, some $400,000 in federal funds is available for the engineering and permitting work.
"We will continue to push for funding to complete the dredging of the channel so that this opportunity and other future growth can come to fruition and create good jobs for the area," said state Rep. Halsey Beshears, who represents Gulf County.
The LOI between Enova and St. Joe, as with Green Circle, anticipates new business development opportunities to create jobs in the region provided the pieces fall together as contemplated in the LOI.
With significant experience in related industries, Enova Energy Group is interested in developing, constructing, owning and operating wood pellet facilities throughout the southeastern U.S.
The company is currently developing three wood pellet production facilities in the Southeast and expects to make its first shipment of pellets in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Enova also expects that its biomass to electricity plant in Plainfield, Conn., will start operations in the fourth quarter of 2013.
"Port St. Joe and the surrounding areas offer some excellent opportunities for the expansion of our wood pellet export business,” said Ben Easterlin, Senior Vice President of Development for Enova. “We look forward to a good relationship with The St. Joe Company and the State of Florida."
The news of the latest agreement reached by the St. Joe Company, which entered into a collaborative agreement last year with the Port Authority to develop the Port of Port St. Joe, was applauded by local, state and federal officials.
"We are excited and encouraged by the news of the relationship between Enova and The St. Joe Company," said Port St. Joe Mayor Mel Magidson, Jr. "The city and the Port of Port St. Joe could see a tremendous increase in economic activity due to this venture.
“The potential for further port improvements and job creation bodes well for the City of Port St. Joe, Gulf County and the entire region."
County Commissioner Warren Yeager said the county was excited about the ongoing progress with the Port of Port St. Joe and said as past chairman of the Port Authority he understood the difficulties of securing new port business.
“The St. Joe Company needs to be commended on its efforts and Gulf County is pleased for this announcement,” Yeager said. “These are exciting times, not only for Port St. Joe and Gulf County, but the entire region. Economic development has taken a huge step forward for all of us."
Congressman Steve Southerland echoed those comments.
"This agreement is an important step forward for Port St. Joe and the surrounding area," Southerland said. "This is a great example of two partners of industry and innovation coming together to seek to create jobs and expand economic development, and I couldn't be happier about the opportunities it will bring to Northwest Florida."