The paperwork is complete and in another four months or so the Port of Port St. Joe will have reached another key milestone.

The paperwork is complete and in another four months or so the Port of Port St. Joe will have reached another key milestone.

With licensing agreements from the St. Joe Company in hand, engineers Hatch Mott MacDonald has moved ahead with the first phase of work to design the infrastructure needed to handle spoil from the dredging of the federally-authorized shipping channel.

With state and federal permits in hand for the dredging as well as for spoil disposal, the next major step toward port development is the design and construction of spoil areas to accommodate some 5 million cubic feet of material.

The St. Joe Company, the Port St. Joe Port Authority’s collaborator in port development, has signed off on the license agreements needed to begin geo-tech work on lands donated for spoil disposal.

Those lands include the former paper mill site as well as acreage along the Gulf County Canal.

“The work on the design is ongoing,” said Tommy Pitts, project manager with Hatch Mott MacDonald. “We have made significant progress with much more to do.

“The work is progressing.”

Though started later than originally projected, Pitts said the design work would be completed in about four months, putting it in mid-summer.

The goal of the work, which is funded through a $1 million Florida Department of Transportation grant, is to provide the Port Authority the set of documents needed to put construction of the spoil-site infrastructure out for bid.

“That is key,” said Port Authority chair Eugene Raffield.

In effect, dredging can’t begin until there is some place to put the spoil that will be brought up to carve the channel to the allowable 34-37 foot depth.

Also last week, the Port Authority submitted to the FDOT a five-year Capital Improvement Plan that reflects the proposed dredging and the level of funding, estimated at $54 million, needed to complete the dredging.

As FDOT representative Ed Chadwell said, a request for the CIP is a positive sign as it indicates, “The DOT believes the port will be alive in five years.”

The Port Authority also received two other bits of positive news last week.

The first came from the St. Joe Company which Raffield said had agreed to provide basic administration funding to the Port Authority in phases over the next year.

Raffield has long sought roughly $54,000 to offset essential expenses over the current fiscal year with the anticipation that the port will be revenue-generating, or at least on the road, in another year.

Last year, the Port Authority received $120,000 in a bridge loan from the Board of County Commissioners to help defray past-due bills and expenses.

That money has been expended.

Dan Velazquez, St. Joe’s new representative in Gulf County, said company CEO Jorge Gonzalez had agreed to the plan to assist on administration expenses and the details would be worked out in the coming two weeks.

“There have been a lot of discussions with St. Joe,” Raffield said. “I am really pleased with this agreement.”

Velazquez said the agreement to assist with basic expenses was a reflection that, “The port is a big priority for the company.”

On another troubling economic front, Capital City Bank has come back with a more reasonable offer in the long-running dispute with the Port Authority over money owed.

In short, Capital City Bank has been pursuing a “deficiency” judgment against the Port Authority in the amount of $1.6 million.

That amount respresents what the bank asserts is the difference between the appraised value of former Port Authority land foreclosed on nearly two years ago and the amount the bank received when it sold the land, which is under the Tapper Bridge and includes a bulkhead, to Eastern Shipbuilding.

However, port attorney Tom Gibson said the bank had come back with a “settlement offer significantly better than anything put forward in the past.”

The Port Authority was expected to meet in closed session this week to discuss next steps.

“I’m excited about the new proposal,” Raffield said. “It will keep us in the game in an affordable way.”