One hurdle crossed and several high ones ahead for the Port of Port St. Joe.
An application to secure a permit to dredge the shipping channel to federally-authorized depths was submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection the first of the month as promised.
The materials submitted – the target date for submittal was March 1, a Saturday, so the date of record is March 3 – constituted a partial application dealing exclusively with reports and data essential to assessing the task of actual dredging.
Still to be submitted by Hatch Mott MacDonald, the Port Authority’s engineer of record, is data pertaining to disposal of dredged material: how, where, potential impacts, etc.
The Port Authority was encouraged to submit at least a partial application by the target of the first of March.
That allows state and federal agencies to begin to weigh-in – analyzing, requesting additional information – on the major component of the dredging process; dredging material to bring the channel to the 35-37 feet authorized depth.
“With the agencies we are finding favor that they can get notice out to all the agencies to begin work on it,” said Tommy Pitts, project manager for Hatch Mott MacDonald. “We are already responding to requests for additional information.”
The “partial” application consisted of two large three-ring bound notebooks, each of which would dwarf a major city’s white pages.
The work on the disposal effort continues, Pitts said.
As the volume of dredged material now far exceeds what was estimated, additional uplands will have to be identified, he said. Hatch Mott and the Port Authority are being assisted in the effort by collaborative partner St. Joe Company, but Pitts noted there is not an abundance of “contiguous” acreage in the region.
The disposal portion of the application also required additional technical and specialized studies, Pitts said. Beginning and completing those studies hinges on identifying sufficient land.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pitts said, is “exploring cooperating” with the dredge project in key aspects, Pitts said.
One would be working with project leaders to consider using at least a portion of the Gulf County Canal – which is currently deeper than authorized – for some of the dredged material, which would alleviate the need and cost associated with identifying additional uplands.
The Corps’ assistance would be critical since it would be possible moving spoil into the canal would be impacting a Corps project which would necessitate a time-consuming and costly impact study by the Corps.
“(Hurdles identifying viable disposal sites) is not insurmountable and is something we will accomplish,” Pitts said. “Our goal is the permit.”
Representatives from the Corps, Pitts added, as also looking at the possibility of undertaking the dredging itself under a “contributed funds agreement.”
That would mean the Corps would use the funds allocated by the FDEP to complete the dredge project.
From the Port Authority’s side, what is needed is a schedule from the Corps that the project could be completed no later than the second quarter of 2015 – though the target remains the first quarter to set in motion two Letters of Intent to ship 1.25 million tons of wood pellets annually through the port.
For the Corps, it would use the data for the application submitted to the DEP by Hatch Mott to substantiate the cause for dredging, freeing up Hatch Mott to concentrate on the studies related to the disposal component.
The Corps would complete the dredging without the Port Authority or Hatch Mott carrying the responsibility of contracting and performing that work.
The Corps could tap into $400,000 in federal funds earmarked two years ago for the port to begin its work pending appropriation from the Florida Legislature and FDEP this spring, Pitts said.
One piece of critical information missing from that discussion is a cost estimate of the dredge project, taking into account the larger volume of material and need for additional spoil sites.
The initial estimate of $25 million is now considered low.
“We have come up with some options for the problems we have encountered,” said Port Authority chairman Leonard Costin. “We’re so close to things happening, we really are.”
The Port Authority is working with businesses along Industrial Road to potentially provide long-desired signage for the businesses on the old Arizona Chemical property and badly-needed income for the Port Authority.
The proposal from Toye Roberts of American Mini-Storage would be to construct a sign on the Port Authority-owned Arizona Chemical site with space on the sign for up to 30 businesses to advertise.
Roberts said he would have the sign built and would loan the Port Authority the $6,000 cost of constructing the sign for three years with minor interest.
Roberts has already signed up nine business owners with interest from several more. Those nine already committed would generate $5,400 annually to the Port Authority through monthly lease payments.
Businesses along Industrial Road have long bemoaned the city of Port St. Joe’s sign ordinance, which bans off-premises sign, constraining the exposure for those businesses.
The proposed sign on Arizona Chemical property would likewise be illegal, but Port Authority attorney Tom Gibson, also the city’s attorney, said he would bring it to the City Commission.
He believed commissioners would look favorably on the proposal.
The Port Authority within the next week to 10 days will schedule a closed door executive session to discuss strategy in the Capital City Bank foreclosure proceeding.
Though the barge bulkhead – itself worth $5 million, Pitts, the former port director, said – and uplands property is listed to be auctioned April 11, Gibson said a final court order has not been filed so the property can not yet be auctioned.
The Port Authority, he added, should hear from the Tallahassee attorneys representing them in the case and consider the options the attorneys provide.
The Port Authority is in arrears to the tune of more than $5 million on notes from Capital City Bank. A circuit court judge recently ruled in the bank’s favor in litigation to foreclose on the collateral, the 60-plus acre parcel along the Gulf County Canal.