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- 2012 - June - 29th -

JPA board pledges support for St. Johns River Ferry

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

Responding to a request to help extend the St. Johns River Ferry operations, the Jacksonville Port Authority board voted 7-0 on Thursday to conditionally provide $200,000 toward the effort.

State Reps. Mike Weinstein (R-Orange Park) and Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) asked the JPA board for its support while the City works to find a new operator for the ferry, which links Florida A1A between Mayport Village and Fort George Island.

Citing capital improvements and operating costs, the port had announced it would no longer operate the ferry after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“What we would like from you is an illustration from the board that you are willing to participate in the partnership and provide over the next two fiscal years, the one you are in now and the one following, a total of $200,000 that would be used to make sure that we had the assistance that would be needed to operate it for an extra nine months to a year,” said Weinstein.

Adkins asked for the JPA board’s support because of the service it provides.

“When you look at the ridership study that the Florida Department of Transportation conducted, the numbers showed that 54 percent of the riders Monday through Friday were simply trying to get to work,” said Adkins.

The port voted unanimously to provide the $200,000 with the conditions that the board approve a transfer of assets of the ferry at a second meeting of the board and that there be adequate funding to support the transfer, according to City of Jacksonville General Counsel Cindy Laquidara.

Bill Gulliford, chair of the City Council Ad Hoc Committee to Fund the St. Johns River Ferry, explained that the plan to fund the ferry includes contributions from the port, City and other stakeholders that could be matched by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Gulliford, Weinstein and Adkins plan to meet in July with the department to make the request.

After the vote, Gulliford told the Daily Record that he plans to submit an appropriations bill for the $200,000 for the City’s share.

“All I can do is appeal to my fellow Council members and hope the majority of them understand the importance of it, that it’s a significant community issue and a regional issue. It needs a year to try and save the thing,” said Gulliford.

He said he met with Atlantic Beach officials and plans to meet with Neptune and Jacksonville Beaches leaders to ask for support.

Gulliford said the JAX Chamber also “should step up and make some kind of contribution. I don’t care how much it is, I’d just like to see that solid commitment.”

The ferry is a link for the state highway system and has been in operation since 1948. The Florida Department of Transportation was the first operator, followed by the City in 1997.

The City considered discontinuing the ferry service in 2007 because of the financial strain it caused the City budget and asked the port to take over operations. The port agreed and has been the operator since then.

The JPA board also approved its 2012-13 budget and a new slate of officers.

The proposed $55 million budget didn’t include funds to operate the ferry. The port is required to submit its budget to Council for review because it is an independent agency of the City.

Port CEO Paul Anderson said the funds for the ferry would likely be pulled from proposed debt service.

The board also elected officers for the 2012-13 term. Reggie Gaffney chose not to seek another term as chairman and was succeeded by Steve Busey, who has served as vice chairman.

Jim Citrano was elected as vice chairman, Joe York as treasurer and John Anderson as secretary.

The slate of candidates was approved unanimously by the board.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

356-2466

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