Eastern Shipbuilding is still expanding into Gulf County, but a proposal for construction of dry dock to facilitate that expansion is headed to the back burner.
The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to “draw back” an application with Triumph Gulf Coast for grant funding to construct the dry dock within the shipping channel off the former paper mill site bulkhead.
The dry dock was the BOCC’s top priority for Triumph funding and the county was joined by the two cities and school board in supporting the project as the county’s No. 1 project.
The Triumph board approved the application in September, setting a cap of $13 million in grant funding for the project; the county originally sought $28 million.
The $13 million represents less than the $15 million first-year allotment of Triumph funds; Triumph is legislatively-charged with disbursing more than $1 billion in BP fine dollars to eight Northwest Florida counties during the next 15 years.
Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager said Tuesday staff recommended the county step away from the dry dock as other priorities have arisen since the arrival of Hurricane Michael.
Specifically, the county is joining the city of Port St. Joe and school district in applying for grant funding to fill in revenue holes that will be created in the aftermath of Michael.
The pre-application, which is being crafted in consultation with Triumph staff, would seek funding to offset impact and utility fees for workforce housing construction as well as funding to offset losses in property taxes.
The Port St. Joe Port Authority, which is a joint applicant on the dry dock project, voted at its recent meeting to pull back the dry dock application from active consideration.
“That is not going to hinder Eastern Shipbuilding from coming to our community and bringing jobs,” Yeager said.
Eastern is also rebuilding from damage done by the storm, Yeager said, and is working with Triumph on an application for a facility in Bay County.
However, Yeager said, the company is committed to using a portion of the former paper mill site bulkhead to create an outfitting yard, for which a ribbon cutting was held earlier this year.
A state appropriation of $6 million will be used to construct a building and perform needed dredging, Yeager said.
The hope, he said, is for Eastern to be operational at the mill site by May 1, with the first of three Staten Island ferries to be outfitted in Gulf County arriving shortly thereafter.
The county, finally, after months, has received the $2.8 million in grant funding to be used for the beach restoration project.
That fills in the final hole in the roughly $10 million budget for the project.
That project was initially to begin the Monday before Michael’s arrival, but has been pushed back until the spring, hopefully by June.
“We are in negotiations with the contractor (Manson),” Yeager said.
The $2.8 million, the county’s first-year direct allotment under the provisions of federal legislation the RESTORE Act, has been held up at U.S. Treasury during a debate about its use in a Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) zone.
The restoration project also could be expanded by the time its gets underway, as state officials have expressed an interest in participating along the coast of Billy Joe Rish State Park.
That would expand the project from the southern boundary of the park to at least the northern boundary.
Yeager said two change orders to the project were already likely; one to increase the amount of sand to be pumped onto beaches and another to change the dates for the project’s start and end.
Also on Tuesday, commissioners approved going out for requests for proposal to begin “farming” sand from the county’s sand pit in Honeyville.
RESTORE Pot 3
A 23-county consortium charged with crafting a spending plan to disburse more than $290 million in BP fine dollars has approved a final plan.
Under the plan, the county, as with each of the other 22 counties, will receive about $12.8 million over the next 15 years.
The money will come available in 2019, Yeager said, and first-year funding is likely to be directed to each of the two cities for infrastructure projects.