Gov. Rick Scott pledged Friday to help Jacksonville’s port contribute to turning the state into the “shipping capital” of the United States.
He specifically talked about the Mile Point project, which port officials say must be completed to position Jacksonville for global competition.
Scott told the 1,200 attendees at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce Cornerstone meeting that he planned to visit Panama this week with Jacksonville Port Authority CEO Paul Anderson to help determine how to best assist Jacksonville.
The governor has identified Florida ports as good investments of taxpayer dollars.
“Miami has all of its permitting done, so that one is going to get done,” said Scott, who a week earlier pledged money to help that project.
“What we have to do here is work with the Army Corps of Engineers to deal with the issue of Mile Point. Focus day after day on solving problems so we can get this port in the same position as Miami,” he said.
“This state, we should be the shipping capital for clearly the East Coast, if not the entire United States,” he said.
Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation on March 4 to amend its work plan to include $77 million for the Port of Miami’s dredging project to offset a shortfall in project funding.
The money will be used to help deepen the port to 50 feet so the larger ships traveling through an expanded Panama Canal by 2014 can call on the port.
The Jacksonville port has a few more hurdles to overcome before it can accommodate the larger ships. The Mile Point project, estimated at up to $60 million, is needed to improve tidal flows at the section of the shipping channel where the St. Johns River meets the Intracoastal Waterway.
The condition limits the time ships are able to call on the Jacksonville port and officials want to correct it to improve access.
The second project for the port is deepening the shipping channel to 50 feet to allow larger ships into the port after the Panama Canal widening project is completed.
“I think our biggest opportunities (for economic development) are our ports and Jacksonville has a big opportunity,” said Scott.
“Next week I’m going to Panama with (Anderson) and our focus is that we have to make sure that this port is one of the ports that can handle the Panamax ships. We have to get the port dredged to 50 feet and figure out how to do that as quickly as we can,” said Scott.
The port authority is waiting for an engineering and environmental study from the Army Corps of Engineers that will determine the optimum depth for the channel. The first draft is due in April.
The authority also is working on finding ways to speed up the process of correcting Mile Point.
Mayor John Peyton also spoke at the luncheon and recognized the focus that Scott has had on Jacksonville since he took office in January.
“I’ve never been more optimistic about our future. We’ve got a lot of things going for us. Our form of government is superior when it comes to economic competition and we have a true partner in Rick Scott,” said Peyton.
“He has been here more in the past six weeks than all the other governors combined. He spent an entire day at our port learning about the issues we are facing,” he said, referring to Scott’s visit Jan. 25.
Scott also visited last Monday to meet with a prospect for a headquarters project.