A U.S. House of Representatives bill passed last week to authorize ports projects nationwide leaves out the JaxPort deepening. But, it does allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin designing the project using local funds, officials said Friday.
Also, the push to get the entire project into this year's legislation has another shot when the House and Senate meet to reconcile their versions of the bills.
"This was not our last chance to get this, it was our first chance," U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, said Friday at a news conference.
In the meantime, the Jacksonville Port Authority is prepared spend $5 million to $6 million of its operating funds to move forward with project engineering and design of the dredging, CEO Brian Taylor said.
The House last week passed its version of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act by a 417-3 vote, authorizing water infrastructure projects nationwide. Congress has passed only two bills like it in the last 14 years.
JaxPort needs to deepen its shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet, in order to accept larger container cargo ships, which are becoming the norm in the global shipping industry.
But JaxPort's deepening project was left out of the House bill because a federal study, or Chief's Report, recommending it won't be finished until April, four months after the bill's cutoff date.
Before the bill's passage, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Crenshaw tried unsuccessfully to get an amendment added that would have authorized JaxPort deepening and other projects that have their Chief's Reports completed within a year after the legislation is signed into law.
In the past Congress has allowed such authorizations for projects that complete Chief's Reports two years after legislation passes.
"That's all I wanted, is what we've done before," Brown said.
The House Rules Committee, however, ruled Brown's amendment out of order and it did not go to the full House floor.
Crenshaw on Friday said an upcoming House-Senate conference could still tip the balance in JaxPort's favor.
The House's version of the bill does not allow for JaxPort deepening, but the Senate's version does.
"There's a wide gap for negotiations and compromise," Crenshaw said. "So the game is far from over."
Another bright spot: Both the House and Senate bill allow non-federal funds to be spent on project engineering and design for any Army Corps projects not yet authorized.
Taylor on Friday said he was disappointed JaxPort deepening was not added to the House bill. But, the port is prepared to pay the $5 million to $6 million for project design in order to keep deepening moving forward.
"We need a determined effort so these projects stay on track," he said.
Dennis Kelly, general manager of Jacksonville's TraPac container terminal, has in the past said his company would be forced to leave JaxPort if its channel isn't deepened.
But for now, the company remains committed to the city. Trapac this year has spent $5 million on crane improvements to accommodate large ships, Kelly said.
"I don't understand all of the options [before Congress]," Kelly said. "But at least there are opportunities in the near future, and deep water is not a dead issue. And that's a good thing."
The fight to get the Port of Jacksonville's shipping channel deepened to 47 feet is not over, congressional and port leaders said Friday.