After months of talks over terms of a deal, an agreement to effectively hand over operating the St. Johns River ferry to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is in place.
It won’t be by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year as some had hoped. Instead, the transfer will be completed by March 31.
That’s the day before the start of the city’s third quarter and a time that should be well after a scheduled haul-out for a required inspection and repairs.
Those repairs, an estimated $1.8 million, are being evenly split between the city and JTA.
The service that provides a link between Mayport and Heckscher Drive will be out of commission during December and the first part of January, a period that typically is the lowest ridership of the year.
During that time, the $1.8 million will go toward a Coast Guard inspection and repairs. While the vessel is out of the water, grants worth $5 million will cover needed repairs to the slip wall.
Timing just didn’t work out for the quick transfer before the haul-out — both the City Council and JTA board of directors would have had to sign off on the transfer agreement in September.
“That was unlikely,” said council member John Crescimbeni, chair of the St. Johns River Ferry Commission.
The commission has been operating the ferry since 2012, when the Jacksonville Port Authority turned the service over to the city.
Now, it’s the city that will turn it over to the JTA. In addition to splitting maintenance costs and the date, the two sides agreed on a couple of other details at a Monday meeting. Instead of any possible savings being split between the two entities, the money will go toward slip wall and fender repairs.
The city also will be responsible for cost overruns over the $1.8 million — something causing Crescimbeni some hesitancy.
Months ago, the future of the service didn’t look as optimistic.
Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $1 million in state funding that was slated to go toward the $1.8 million haul-out. Without replacing those funds, the haul-out couldn’t be completed, the slip walls not repaired. Crescimbeni at the time said the service would be “effectively out of business.”
But, instead of state funding, the city stepped up. Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget in mid-July included $900,000 toward the repairs and JTA came up with a like amount.
The commission approved a $1.5 million budget for the coming year, which comprises anticipated passenger revenue, grants and a JTA monthly subsidy of just over $33,333 until the transfer.
Instead of concern for the future, it’s more about anticipation for supporters planning the 4th Annual Ferry Fest in October.