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- 2012 - September - 27th -

Federal, state agencies thanked for quick action on ferry repairs

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

As the Jacksonville Port Authority and City's St. Johns River Ferry Commission work toward transferring ferry operations to the City on Monday, both were thankful for the quick reaction of federal and state agencies in funding repairs for the ferry.

The commission, port, ferry operator Hornblower Marine Services and the U.S. Coast Guard met Wednesday to address details of the transfer. Insurance coverage for the ferry and its facilities, a ferry security plan, ferry coupon books, procedures for fare collection and public relations were all discussion points.

Members also recognized the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration for their expedited efforts to find funding for recent ferry repairs.

“I would like to offer up a thanks to the folks from both BAE (Systems) and FDOT for their work to get the ferry repaired in very quick order and getting it back into service. That couldn’t have been done without a lot of folks jumping into action,” said Joe Miller, senior director of facilities and development at the port.

Hornblower discovered stress fractures to the hull of the ferry Sept. 17 and notified the U.S. Coast Guard, which told the operator and the port that the ferry needed to be taken out of service for repairs. It was placed in dry dock at BAE Sytems in Mayport for repairs and returned to service a week later.

Previously, when the City asked the FDOT to match funds it had raised to continue ferry operations, it was told that the FDOT did not have money in the budget to assist the ferry.

The FDOT did, as Miller described, “jump into action,” when asked to assist with finding funding for the repairs. The FDOT, the Federal Highway Administration and the port completed an agreement allowing use of federal Ferry Boat Discretionary Grant funds already awarded to the port for the emergency dry docking and repairs of the ferry.

The agreement, completed in a 48-hour period, required the immediate approval of federal and state grant administrators to waive normal bidding procedures, said Nancy Rubin, port director of communications.

Following the prescribed process would have delayed the return of ferry service by several weeks and added tens of thousands of dollars to the cost, she added.

The Ferry Boat Discretionary Grant funds are awarded by the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the FDOT.

“I applaud this well-coordinated effort to perform the necessary repairs on the ferry in the fastest way possible and with the shortest possible disruption to the ridership," said City Council member John Crescimbeni, who also serves as commission chairman.

"This expedited agreement reflects the effective partnership between our local, state and federal agencies. We all share the goal of getting the ferry service back online for the citizens who depend on it daily,” said Paul Anderson, port CEO.

With the transfer of operations taking place Monday, the City also was appreciative of not having to find the money for the repairs as the current ferry budget does not have funds allocated for capital repairs. The City agreed to operate the ferry for a year, so it could seek out local, state and federal dollars to pay for the long-term operation of the ferry.

The port, which took over operation of the ferry from the City in 2007, decided to halt its operation of the ferry due to an annual operating loss of $600,000-$700,000. It was also facing millions in capital repairs to the ferry’s docking systems and decided that the service was taking away too much funding from its core business operations.

A celebration of the transfer of the ferry will be Sunday after the ferry makes its last trip of the day from the Heckscher Drive dock to the Mayport dock.

The captain will present a ceremonial key to the St. Johns River Ferry Commission and the celebration begins at 6 p.m. at Singleton’s Seafood Shack.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

@photojoe71

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