Port takes a ‘baby step’ forward
In the general scheme of rendering the Port of Port St. Joe operational again, range lights might seem minor pieces of the puzzle.
However, they are essential to completing the puzzle and repairs to the two critical navigational lights for the port are on track, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Known as ATONs (Aids to Navigation), the St. Joseph Bay Rear Range Light repairs should be completed by December.
And the Coast Guard anticipates awarding the contract for repairs to the St. Joseph Bay Front Range Light in February.
“This is a good step for the port moving forward,” said Guerry Magidson, chair of the Port St. Joe Port Authority. “It is one of those baby steps you have to take to move ahead.
“They are basically lights, beacons for ships coming into the port.”
The rear range light, the original of which was moved to the Simmons Bayou home of Danny Raffield over two decades ago, is located at Beacon Hill.
“That will be completed right where the old one used to be,” Magidson said.
The front range light is located on the former St. Joe Company paper mill site.
The ATONs were destroyed by Hurricane Michael.
They are essential for harbor pilots and boat captains, even in the age of GPS, navigating the shipping channel into the port.
“They are harbor beacons so that boat captains and harbor pilots can hit the shipping channel,” Magidson said, adding that another portion of overall repairs will include replacing some buoys.
Magidson said the lights were a subject of discussions with the state’s two U.S. Senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio as well as Congressman Neal Dunn (R-Panama City)
The range lights align with so much about port development, which seems to be a frequent chicken-egg proposition
“Without the aids to navigation, harbor pilots out of Panama City wouldn’t come to Port St. Joe,” Magidson said. “It’s also an imperative for the Coast Guard.
“And the dredging of the channel would be no good without the ATONs.”
Further, until the dredging is completed the navigational lights would allow more barge traffic in and out of the port, Magidson said.
The Port Authority continues to pursue funding for the dredging of the shipping channel to its authorized depth.
The board has resubmitted a grant application for funding via Triumph Gulf Coast and the legislative delegation is lobbying to restore $20 million to the work plan of the Florida Department of Transportation.
If that money is earmarked by FDOT, Magidson said, the Port Authority’s grant application to Triumph would find additional traction.
“The (Triumph) staff and board members know it is there,” Magidson said, adding that Triumph board would likely be encouraged by state skin in the game.
Permits for dredging and spoil disposition are already in hand, spoil sites along the Intracoastal Canal and the former paper mill land identified.
The Port Authority also has in hand an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to oversee the dredging.
As Magidson said, baby steps.