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Jax Daily Record Friday, Apr. 20, 201212:00 PM EST

Funds sought to keep ferry afloat at least a year

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

While a City Council special committee seeks to develop funding sources and an operator for the St. Johns River Ferry, state legislators and officials met Thursday to find funding for the ferry for one more year to allow the committee to complete its work.

Council member Bill Gulliford, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Funding the St. Johns River Ferry, discussed a teleconference that took place in his office involving state Reps. Mike Weinstein and Janet Adkins, Florida Department of Transportation District Two Urban Transportation Development Manager James Bennett and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.

“It was a good meeting. We are working to get three to five different entities to pony up the money with the goal to get another year of operation so the committee can complete its business of developing a proper plan for the future of the ferry,” said Weinstein, who attended the committee meeting Thursday in Council chambers.

“If we get another year, we get another legislative session and more opportunities for funding,” he said.

Another year also would give the committee time to apply for grants to help fund the ferry.

The Jacksonville Port Authority, at the urging of CEO Paul Anderson, voted to stop operating the ferry at the end of the current fiscal year, Sept. 30, because annual operating deficits and needed repairs were diverting too much money from the port’s core businesses.

The port reported that the ferry generated an annual operating loss of about $600,000 and the ferry docks needed improvement.

A recent engineering study showed that the port would need to spend about $7 million to replace its docking systems, which would require the money at the beginning of the project, or about $11 million over 10 years, spending $5 million initially to complete priority one repairs. The rest of the work would be done subsequently.

The Council committee and a citizen-created “Save the Ferry” task force are working to meet that deadline by developing a plan for a new operator and funding.

Gulliford suspended meetings until the committee receives information from a recent ridership survey conducted by the FDOT over four separate days.

Bennett said the information likely will be available by mid-May.

“Once we get that information, we will be able to tell who is using the ferry and what pots of money we have to go after, be it Department of Transportation, tourism. We shall see,” said Gulliford.

Joe Miller, senior director of facilities and development for the port, talked about the options of repairing the docks.

He recommended demolishing the old docks and replacing them with new equipment.

Miller said there is no way of telling what engineers and divers will find when they start examining the nearly 60-year-old equipment that has been repaired over the years.

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