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- 2012 - September - 21st -
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Jacksonville Port Authority CEO Paul Anderson speaks at a meeting of port and City staff and St. Johns River Ferry Commission members Thursday at the port administration building on Talleyrand Avenue.
Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
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Transfer is first hurdle for ferry, funding for improvements second

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

A list of more than 50 items was discussed Thursday regarding the transfer of the St. Johns River Ferry from the Jacksonville Port Authority to the City’s St. Johns River Ferry Commission, but the panel has a short list of priority goals.

The commission has stated its No. 1 goal is to complete the transfer of the ferry to the City, but the transfer has been slowed by ferry repairs.

The second goal is to find funding for capital improvements to the ferry and its facilities.

The mission to save the ferry, after the port announced in February that it would end its operation, was to raise enough money to operate the ferry for another year so its operations could be examined and grants could be sought to allow another operator to continue the service.

The problem with that formula, said the commission’s chair, is that with most grant funding, applicants must have money up front to secure the grants and they are later reimbursed.

“It’s a problem that agencies that apply for grants struggle with, but if you don’t have the money, you go find the money. If we are able to find a grant with a 90-10 match, where we would provide 10 percent of the funding, you would be crazy not to take advantage of that opportunity,” said John Crescimbeni, City Council member and commission chair.

The first budget for the St. Johns River Ferry Commission is about $1.76 million and reflects a focus on operating and maintenance costs. It has no funding for capital improvements.

“Once we finalize the transfer, then we will focus on tracking down the funding. We are on schedule,” said Rich Redick, ferry commission member.

Capital improvements for the ferry were one of the main reasons the port decided to exit the business, said Chris Kauffmann, port chief operating officer.

The looming capital improvement is repair to the ferry docking facilities.

The port has provided the commission with two options for the repairs.

The first involves a phased repair of the existing facilities that were originally constructed in the 1950s. It would take place over 10 years at a cost of about $11 million. Payments would be about $4.3 million in the first year, about $4.5 million in the fifth year and about $2.2 million in year 10 of the project.

The second option costs about $6.6 million and includes demolition and a complete redesign of current facilities. It would cost more up front, but would likely cost less long term. The current ferry has engines on both ends of the ship, which allow for less impact on the docking equipment than its predecessor.

“Once we finalize the transfer, we will have time to focus on finding the funding for capital improvements,” said Crescimbeni.

The commission is scheduled to begin its role as ferry operator Oct. 1.

The ferry likely will be in operation when the City takes over. Kauffmann notified the commission Thursday the ferry could be back in service by Tuesday as the port works to repair stress fractures to the hull.

He estimated the cost of repairs at between $120,000 and $130,000. The problem with the hull was discovered Monday and the ferry was taken out of operation.

It is currently in drydock undergoing repair.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

@photojoe71

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