A path to dredging equals an increase in interest in the Port of Port St. Joe.

A path to dredging equals an increase in interest in the Port of Port St. Joe.

Any interest in developing the port, in turn, will hinge on a path to dredging the federally-authorized shipping channel.

That was the message from Jorge Gonzalez, senior vice president at the St. Joe Company last week to the Port Authority board.

And as the work on a dredge permit application moves ahead the number of inquiries to utilize the port grows, the latest announced last week by Port Authority chair Leonard Costin.

In a letter from the Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation, trustee Brenda Thueson stated the Foundation’s interest in shipping aggregate, rock, through the Port of Port St. Joe via the Apalachicola Northern Railroad.

In addition, the Foundation would wish to ship back to Georgia sand located on both sides of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad.

The Foundation owns 10 miles of frontage along the rail line and operates a sand mine in Franklin County for its cement business.

Further, Thueson said the Foundation was interested in exploring the potential for shipping its wood to be turned into pellets at the Cottondale plants of Green Circle Energy, which has a Letter of Intent with the St. Joe Company to ship pellets through the Port of Port St. Joe.

The Green Circle LOI, as with the announcement from the Holland M. Ware Foundation, the first of its kind with the Port St. Joe Port Authority, is linked to the completion of channel dredging within the next 18-24 months.

Another key component of the interest from the Foundation is state commitments on improvement to the Apalachicola Northern Railroad.

A state appropriation of $5 million for improvements to the

In her letter, Thueson stated the Foundation anticipates shipping at least 1.5 million tons of rock and sand per year through the port.

“The Port Authority’s number one priority is to create jobs for the region,” Costin said. “This letter from Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation demonstrates a growing commitment by businesses to use the port and AN Railway, helping create jobs in several counties in Northwest Florida.

“We now need to ensure the funding is secured to make the necessary infrastructure improvements so we can bring these businesses and jobs to our region.”

The Holland M. Ware Foundation owns approximately 100,000 acres around Port St. Joe.

Holland M. Ware, its Hogansville, Georgia founder, was named in 2010 the largest private landowner east of the Mississippi River and owns St. Regis Paper, Co., Inc.

“With our large acreages from Georgia through Florida and our granite, sand and timber holdings, we have an even greater interest in the revitalization of the Port of Port St. Joe as we discuss the potential of having a port that accommodates heavy bulk cargo operational by the end of 2014 combined with the understood commitment from the State of Florida to build railroad access,” Thueson wrote in her letter.

The Port Authority, though Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc., president Guerry Magidson, also announced another potential client that has been code-named Project Ship, a lumber/timber business seeking to ship to the Caribbean.

“We just need an operational port and an operational railroad,” said Magidson.

That, Gonzalez said, is that the focus for the St. Joe Company is on, stating that any absence by the company from Port Authority meetings should not be construed as not indicating the company’s current full-court press.

“There are a lot of parties interested in the port,” Gonzalez said. “They would like to see some path to progress on dredging. That is the consensus.”

The company, as Gonzalez noted, has tentative agreements with Green Circle and another energy company to ship through the Port of Port St. Joe provided the channel is dredged by the end of 2014, early 2015 at the latest.

The company, Gonzalez said, is lobbying hard the case for dredging of the ship channel.

What those who would fund that dredging work – particularly the Florida Department of Transportation and the Office of the Governor – want to see is that path, Gonzalez said, with potential for customers and community support.

The rail improvement grant is in limbo, in part, as the state assesses the potential for and tangible progress in dredging and the development of the port.

The dredging permit work continues, Tommy Pitts of Hatch Mott MacDonald reported last week. The timeline remains to have the application submitted and approved in the next four to five months.

The key would then be funding, which is a major wish list item for local officials as the Florida Legislature prepares to begin committee meetings next month.