Although the funding is just a fraction of the estimated $700 million or more the entire project will cost, it does represent a major milestone, as this is the first time Washington, D.C., has stepped forward with money for the deepening itself..
We’ve crossed the goal line on this one,” said Eric Green, Jaxport’s interim CEO. “The entire conversation now has changed.”
In total, Florida has $238.3 million committed in the work plan. As well as the deepening money, North Florida projects include $3.2 million for beach nourishment in Nassau County and $3.3 million for nourishment in St. Johns County.
For Jaxport, the funding represents the culmination of a fight that has been going on for years, as the area first struggled to get the work authorized and then fought to get the money to pay for it. The deeper draft is necessary to bring fully laden container ships in at all tide levels, particularly when dealing with the larger ships that are now going through the Panama Canal.
The port embarked on the pre-construction, engineering and design phase of the project in 2014 — which also received federal funds — setting the stage for actual construction.
Plenty of unanswered questions still remain, including what the total price tag will be — the authority has mooted various options for the deepening project — and where the rest of the money will come from.
Green was unable to say exactly when those answers would be nailed down. In April, the City Council — one likely funding partner — asked for hard numbers by the beginning of June but agreed that that was not a hard deadline.
On Wednesday, Green committed to having answers “definitely” before the end of the year, with an eye toward work beginning in late 2017 or early 2018.
“We have this incredible vote of support from the federal government,” Port Authority spokesman Nancy Rubin said. “We still have to fully define the plan for the community.”
When the plan is rolled out, Green said, it will be fully formed, laying out exactly how much of the river will be dredged and where the funding will come from for each of the four phases the work is expected to be split into.
“We’re not going to start the project until we can show we have all the funding,” he said.