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- 2012 - September - 18th -
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A crack was found Monday in the hull of the St. Johns River Ferry, ceasing operations for the next several days until repairs are made.
File photo by Joe Wilhelm, Jr.
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St. Johns River Ferry shut down for repairs

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

Stress fractures were found Monday in the hull of the St. Johns River Ferry, leading to the shutdown of the link for Florida A1A two weeks before the City takes control of the service from the Jacksonville Port Authority.

Greg Dronkert, president of HMS Ferries Division, which operates the ferry, notified the port Monday that “water appears to be entering the vessel at less than one gallon per hour. There is a bilge pump located in the subject compartment and the water that enters is being easily removed. The vessel is in no risk of sinking.”

Dronkert explained to the St. Johns River Ferry Commission at its regular Monday meeting that stress fractures were found on the hull at the Mayport side of the ferry and were likely caused by cavitation that occurs near the propeller during normal ferry operation.

City Council member John Crescimbeni, who chairs the commission, questioned why the crack was not discovered during a recent Coast Guard inspection to gauge the vessel’s seaworthiness.

“That was a different kind of inspection, more focused on how many life jackets are on board and life rafts,” said Chris Kauffmann, chief operating officer of the port.

“The Coast Guard did crawl around the ship during the inspection,” added Dronkert.

The ship will have to be taken out of the water and dry-docked in order to make the repairs, explained commission member Aaron Bowman, former director of business operations for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards and former commanding officer of Naval Station Mayport.

“A rough rule of thumb for the cost of repairs would be between $100,000 and $200,000,” said Bowman.

Council approved legislation transferring property and equipment for the operation of the ferry from the port to the City last week, but the titles for those properties have not yet been transferred.

That means the port is responsible for the repair.

The port is pursuing federal grant money to assist in paying for the repair, which will involve removing and replacing a 3 feet by 3 feet section of the hull.

“The good news is that we had the other end of the ship repaired about two years ago, so we should be good to go after this,” said Bowman.

Early estimates indicated that the ferry would be out of service up to four days and could be open in time for the weekend.

In other port business, its Audit Committee, consisting of port board of directors Vice Chairman James Citrano, Treasurer Joe York and Secretary John Anderson, met Monday to discuss a performance and compensation review of port CEO Paul Anderson.

The review is supposed to performed annually, but it was Anderson’s first. Including this year, Anderson has been with the port for two years.

The committee approved a $16,000 raise to his base salary, which will be increased Oct. 1 to $336,000 in addition to a $50,000 bonus.

The committee recognized Anderson’s ability to raise funds and his ability to make tough decisions.

One of those decisions he presented to the board for approval was to halt its operation of the ferry.

Last year, Anderson urged the board to make the decision because the $600,000-$700,000 in annual operating losses was taking away funds from the ports core business functions. The board approved shutting down ferry operations at its February meeting.

The St. Johns River Ferry Commission will take over operation of the ferry Oct. 1 and plans to have a “transfer of keys” celebration Sept. 30. The ceremony will take place during the final ferry trip under port control at 8:45 p.m.

More details will be released as they become available.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

@photojoe71

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