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- 2012 - July - 24th -

Port prepares for two ferry scenarios

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

Efforts to save the St. Johns River Ferry received a recent financial boost of funds pledged by City Council member Bill Gulliford and Mayor Alvin Brown, but Jacksonville Port Authority staff is not convinced the effort will gain the same support from the Florida Department of Transportation.

The City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Funding the St. Johns River Ferry is seeking half of the ferry funding, $300,000, to be provided by the FDOT to match locally raised funds. The request awaits a reply from the department.

“In my discussions with FDOT, today, there are no dollars in FDOT for this,” said Chris Kauffmann, JaxPort chief operating officer.

James Bennett, Florida Department of Transportation District 2 Urban Transportation Development manager, was in attendance at the Monday meeting and said after the meeting that the department had not made any commitments to the project.

“We are still having an internal discussion on the issue. We have not made a decision for or against support for the St. Johns River Ferry. There have been many stories written about the ferry being saved, but the secretary (of the Florida Department of Transportation Ananth Prasad) hasn’t made a commitment on the issue,” said Bennett.

State Representative Mike Weinstein (R-Orange Park), who has been working with Council and the authority to secure funding for the ferry, confirmed that the department had not answered a request from the City asking for support.

“I wouldn’t be optimistic or pessimistic yet, (FDOT) haven’t made a decision yet. They know that the City and the port have stepped up and agreed to do their part and we are waiting for the state to step up and say whether they will or not,” said Weinstein, who stated he had briefly discussed the matter Monday morning with Prasad.

Gov. Rick Scott has said that he would review the information on the patron survey conducted by the FDOT during March and April and use it as basis for a decision on whether or not to support the ferry. Scott has also not made a decision on the ferry and was unavailable Monday for comment.

The port has agreed to contribute $200,000 to the operation of the ferry during its transition to the St. Johns River Ferry Commission contingent upon the remainder of the funding being secured to operate the ferry and an agreement being reached between the City and JaxPort stating that the port is no longer liable for the ferry and its operations after the transfer of assets.

The St. Johns River Ferry links A1A at Mayport and the authority announced in February that it would discontinue operating the service because of the financial strain it placed on its “core business.” The JaxPort agreed to take on the duties as ferry operator from the City in 2007 and has yet to complete a fiscal year without an operating deficit. The port predicts that deficit will be about $650,000 by the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

The authority plans to halt operations of the ferry Sept. 30. It has been in operation since 1948.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

@photojoe71

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