Tommy Pitts is moving from port director to helping directing the port’s future.

Tommy Pitts is moving from port director to helping directing the port’s future.

Pitts, who has worked much of the past year on a salary of $1 per month as the Port St. Joe Port Authority wrestled with scant revenues, has taken a position with the engineering firm spearheading the work on the Port of Port St. Joe’s application to dredge the shipping channel.

Dredging the shipping channel, said Port Authority board member Eugene Raffield, as the key to unlocking the port’s potential.

Pitts will be the project manager on the dredge permit work for Hatch Mott MacDonald, formally contracted two weeks by the Port Authority to undertake the nearly $800,000 task of securing the dredge permit.

“While this concludes my employment/volunteer status with the Port Authority I will obviously still be involved in the effort to revitalize our seaport, a project that is important to all of us,” Pitts said.

Pitts will continue to be a fixture at Port Authority meetings, now in the role of updating the board on the progress of the permitting effort.

Pitts will continue to live in Port St. Joe while his office with Hatch Mott is in Panama City. He said much of his work will be in Gulf County.

“We will be assessing dredge material disposal sites, perform sediment sampling and coordinate with the county and (Tourist Development Council) on potential beach renourishment sites among other duties associated with the dredge permit work,” Pitts said.

Hatch Mott approached Pitts some weeks ago, noting that Pitts’ extensive knowledge of the port and channel could be invaluable to the work on the dredge permit application.

However, Pitts and the company would not consider any decision until consulting with the Florida Department of Transportation, which provided the grant to fund the dredge permit application.

“Ethically, Tommy is above reproach,” said Port Authority chair Leonard Costin.

A review by Samuel J. Henderson, district chief counsel in the Office of the General Counsel for the FDOT, indicated that the Port Authority and Pitts would not violate any ethical state laws in his employment with Hatch Mott MacDonald.

“From the information given to me, it appears that Mr. Pitts is not an officer, partner, director or proprietor of Hatch Mott MacDonald at this time and does not now, nor is it contemplated that he, his spouse or his children will have a material interest in Hatch Mott MacDonald,” Henderson wrote Costin.

Further, Pitts had never been employed previously by Hatch Mott and did not participate in the selection of the company on a continuing engineering contract in 2007 – a decision made by the Port Authority board.

Therefore, Henderson concluded, there would be no violation of the grant agreement for the dredge application work by Pitts going to work for Hatch Mott MacDonald.

Costin said if there was a person responsible for the Port of Port St. Joe being on the cusp of potential development it was Pitts and he added he was pleased that Pitts, in his new job, would still be an integral part of the port’s future.

“Tommy has his heart in that port,” Costin said. “His leadership has gotten us to this critical stage. His hard work and dedication to making the Port of Port St. Joe a reality is now coming together. He will be greatly missed as our port director but I take comfort in knowing he will still be involved in making the dream a reality.

“I also thank him for all the countless volunteer hours he contributed to the port’s efforts after our financial status precluded further payment of salaries. He stayed the course and helped the port get through a very critical stage in the process that leads towards future dredging of the channel.”

Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc. executive director Barry Sellers will take a larger role in promoting the port and work with the Port Authority in administrative issues where possible.

“Tommy is a class act and a man of integrity in a world where there are too few of them,” Sellers said.

Guerry Magidson, president of the EDA, added, “Tommy is a tremendous asset to the community and has conducted himself as a true professional during trying times. I look forward to helping see the port succeed.”

And as he departs one job aimed at that success, Pitts enters another aimed at bringing to fruition the commitments of two energy firms to ship wood pellets through the Port of Port St. Joe.

“I am particularly pleased that I can stay involved with the port development project,” Pitts said. “In fact, I can now be more focused on the major task before us and that is the timely permitting of the maintenance dredging in order to secure the wood pellet commitments.

“After many years of the port being a community and personal dream, I have gained confidence that it will become a reality in the foreseeable future.”