On one hand, there are potentially thousands of jobs at stake.
On the other are the possible impacts to the health of the St. Johns River.
Overall, John Baker says the exercise should be “fascinating.”
Baker, Patriot Transportation executive vice president, is co-chair of a 13-member port task force named by Mayor Alvin Brown last month that will meet for the first time April 18.
The group has been asked to review three topics: find out how the city could cover its undetermined share of an estimated $684 million tab likely needed to deepen Jacksonville’s harbor to the 47 feet needed to handle larger ships; have a “thoughtful and deliberate” conversation on the economic and environmental impacts that come with deepening; and rally community support for JaxPort initiatives.
The group comprises mostly members with business — not environmental — backgrounds and has led to questions of the conversation and recommendations swaying too far one way.
The St. Johns Riverkeeper has said the economic-benefit numbers that came from a port-hired group are inflated and a peer review is needed. On the environmental front, the impact to the river’s health has been looked at from the federal level, but only as it benefits the federal government. The riverkeeper’s concerns include the increased salinity in the water, which ultimately affects vegetation and the local seafood industry.
But, Baker said he is not heading into the process with preconceived notions and thinks the same would be true for other task force members.
“While they may be business people, they are really people who care about Jacksonville,” he said. “What we want to do is best for Jacksonville.”
Baker said he would push for single topics to be discussed each meeting and from there he will let the facts speak for themselves.
“I don’t know what they will tell us,” he said.
The group’s other co-chair, Martin “Hap” Stein, Regency Centers chairman and CEO, deferred comment to Baker.
Baker expects the first three to four meetings to be informational, but the group will decide the scheduling in two weeks.
The possible jobs, the money that comes with them — and spent to create — and delving into environmental concerns Baker said are the topics he expects to be at the forefront. Recommendations likely will come out of the side that makes the stronger case, he said.
“It’s a fascinating study,” he said. “There are a lot of issues … I have no idea how it will turn out.”
Port task force members
• John Baker (co-chair), executive vice president of Patriot Transportation
• Martin “Hap” Stein (co-chair), Regency Centers chairman and CEO
• Alvin “Pete” Carpenter, retired president and vice chairman of CSX
• Moody Chisholm, St. Vincent’s HealthCare president
• Joe Debs, RS&H executive vice president and chief marketing officer
• Adam Herbert, former University of North Florida president
• Ray Holt, City Council member
• Paola Parra Harris, Harris Guidi attorney
• Matt Kane, Greenshades Software owner
• Dr. Robert Lufrano, former chairman and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida (now Florida Blue)
• Janet Owen, UNF vice president of governmental affairs
• Ron Townsend, communications consultant and former Gannett television consultant
• Quinton White, executive director of the Marine Science Research Institute at Jacksonville University