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Chip shipping sets sail

Woodchip shipping out of St. Joe may be a tongue twister, but it’s a welcome one.

The shipping of woodchips to Honduras took a big step forward this week with the arrival of four barges of woodchips from Pensacola.

First of four barges  in the Gulf Canal passing under the Highland View Bridge to dock at the bulkhead.

The chips, once destined for an Escambia County dump site where they could have become a fire hazard, were instead barged along the intercoastal waterway to Port St. Joe, to be mixed with the woodchips here and later shipped to Honduras.

“This is the day we have waited for a very long time,” said Guerry Magdison, chairman of the Port Authority. “We are optimistic it is the first day of many great days to come in reopening our port.”

Jim McKnight, director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition, said this represents the ultimate win-win-win project.

“This region of Florida gets dead wood off the ground and allows replanting of timberland,” he said. “It invigorates the port and timber business with 100 jobs and provides lifeblood to the Honduran textile industry, which are powered by biomass plants.”

Honduras, largely devoid of trees, depends on these North Florida woodchips to save the country’s 10,600 textile mill jobs, he said.

“Kudos go out to the Twin Rivers Land and Timber Company, the Zavala Consulting Group and the Port St. Joe Port Authority for operationalizing the project in such a timely manner, and thanks to the St. Joe Company for assisting with the property lease,” McKnight said.

“Yeah this is a big project,” said Clay Crosby, president of Twin Rivers. “And as with the proverbial big elephant, we will have to eat him one spoon at a time.”

Jim McKnight, drector of the Gulf County EDC, left, welcomes Clay Crosby, president of Twin Rivers Land and Timber Co., who arrived on the first wood chip barge to dock at the St. Joe bulkhead.

Julio Zavala, CEO of Honduran-based Zavala Consulting, said the group was proud to be part of the alliance with Twin Rivers and the Port Authority to supply the woodchips for the country’s biomass plants.

“We are confident the project will spur economic development by creating jobs related to cutting, collecting, processing, transportation and shipment of the greatly needed woodchip to our biomass plants,” he said.

Crosby said owners of the biomass plants plan to visit Port St. Joe next week to observe the first barge departing for Honduras.