Permits to dredge the federally-authorized shipping channel remain on track as the Port St. Joe Port Authority looked beyond dredging last week.
Tommy Pitts, project manager with Hatch Mott MacDonald, said the final obstacles to dredging appear close to being cleared and an application for a permit to dredge the shipping channel, and open development of the Port of Port St. Joe, remained on a timely course.
“We continue to make significant progress on the permitting,” Pitts said, noting that the application is still likely to be submitted sometime next month with a goal of having permits in hand by the first of 2015.
The hope is to have the channel dredge work complete sometime in the second half of next year.
Hatch Mott is working on the disposal areas for dredge material, an intensive analysis of available lands, native flora and fauna and potential costs of constructing berms, among other aspects.
Pitts said nailing down disposal lands has been complicated by AgReserves, the company that bought hundreds of thousands of acres from the St. Joe Company earlier this year, including land above the power lines adjacent to the Gulf County canal that had been identified as potential sites.
Pitts said thus far AgReserves has not been inclined to discuss allowing some of those acres to be used for disposal.
Less actual acreage, Pitts said, means higher berms which will add to the cost of constructing the disposal sites.
Hatch Mott has mapped out two possible scenarios, one using the land above the power lines and one without, and within the “next couple of weeks” an application that side of the dredging will be submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“We are almost there,” Pitts said.
Lands that have been identified as viable disposal sites include the federally delineated sites along the canal, both adjacent and parallel to the water and the former chemical plant sites along the canal, some 300 acres in all, Pitts said.
Parallel to the disposal site effort is that being undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to secure the actual dredge permit.
A final hurdle Pitts said is the tip of St. Joseph Peninsula, which has accreted into the authorized shipping channel.
Initially, Hatch Mott proposed simply swinging around the tip, but the Corps is working to shift the shipping channel by 300 feet to accommodate the changing topography.
“They believe they will have that completed by the end of the month and then complete the dredge permit,” Pitts said.
The Corps is working under a “contributed funds agreement” with the Port Authority by which the Port Authority would provide up to $40 million to dredge the channel.
Those funds, $20 million of which was appropriated by Florida lawmakers this year, will come from the state.
The port board also began to examine options beyond the dredging of the channel and how the Port Authority will generate revenue.
Attorney Tom Gibson said the issue of tariffs is a legal process and there will be some legal study required to justify any fees and tariffs.
Pitts, the former port director, noted that as a special governing body established by the Florida Legislature the Port Authority has the ability to establish use fees for lands within the port planning area.
The port planning area is roughly 300 acres and includes Port Authority and St. Joe Company land.
It includes the former Arizona Chemical site, which board chair Leonard Costin said was generating serious interest from a potential lessee, another potential source of revenue.
St. Joe reports that funding agreements with two energy companies to ship through the Port of Port St. Joe upon the completion of dredging are being finalized.
Those agreements would include the Port Authority as partner.
The agreement with Green Circle, LLC needs only an official signature from the FDOT. Another, with Enova Energy, has yet to be signed off on by Enova.