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Jax Daily Record Monday, Mar. 4, 201901:45 PM EST

JaxPort agrees to $238.7 million international shipping agreement

Seattle-based SSA Marine plans to expand its presence on Blount Island
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

The Jacksonville Port Authority board approved a 25-year, $238.7 million contract Monday with Seattle-based SSA Marine LLC to enlarge its presence at Blount Island.

The agreement expands SSA's 50-acre International Gateway Terminal facility to 80 acres by 2023 so it can increase service for Asian shipping lines.

SSA could expand to 120 acres as land becomes available.

According to the deal, SSA will invest about $129 million into the facility, providing JaxPort with $28 million in upfront payments over the first three years of the contract to pay for the exclusive use of three new 100-gauge cranes.

JaxPort CEO Eric Green said the money will go toward the ongoing approximately $484 million harbor deepening project to dredge an 11-mile stretch of the St. Johns River from the Atlantic Ocean to Blount Island.

The new depth of 47 feet can accommodate the large post-Panamax ships from Asia passing through the recently enlarged Panama Canal.

SSA’s minimum annual guaranteed investment over the 25-year span of the deal is $158 million, although JaxPort estimates it will be more lucrative over time. The agreement has two five-year extensions.

“This is historic and it’s a great day for the Port Authority,” Green said. “What this means is we’re on the map.”

JaxPort plans to invest $109 million for the rehabilitation and upgrades to prepare berths 33-35 at the facility to accommodate two post-Panamax vessels.

Green said the deal protects and creates more than 3,000 port-related jobs across the region.

SSA Conventional President Mark Knudsen said North Florida is a prime market to increase the company’s container business from Asia.

“We see a lot of investment in warehouse and distribution facilities in the Jacksonville area,” Knudsen said. “That to us is the market saying this is a good place to invest.”

Knudsen said Jacksonville’s growing population, proximity to major interstates and the JPA's commitment to growth were factors in the deal.

“This expansion also wouldn’t be possible without the deepening project they’re working on here,” Knudsen said. “We see that as an investment in the entire Southeast region.”

Knudsen said the company will begin preparing the property over the next few months.

“Right now, the pavement profile isn’t strong enough to handle the stacking volumes we expect in the future, so we’ll address that,” Knudsen said.

“We’re starting with the permit process and the engineering and design stuff,” he said. 

The expansion is expected to be completed by 2023 to coincide with the port’s dredging project.

SSA Marine is a subsidiary of Carrix Inc., which operates more than 250 facilities across the globe. Knudsen said the company’s board of directors approved the contract Feb. 26.

Jacksonville City Council President Aaron Bowman and U.S. Rep. John Rutherford also attended the Monday announcement.

Bowman said the agreement solidifies Jacksonville’s decision to proceed with dredging.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Bowman said. “This is the justification of why we’re doing the dredging, of why this port is on an amazing growth path.”

Rutherford said the federal government will continue to support the port’s growth.

“We’ve been saying all along that we want to see Jacksonville and JaxPort become the logistics hub for the Eastern Seaboard,” Rutherford said.

 The port authority has agreements with two companies running international container shipping terminals in Jacksonville – SSA Marine and TraPac LLC, which operates at the nearby Dames Point Marine Terminal. 

Green said JaxPort staff approached both operators last year about expanding at Blount Island.

“They thought at this particular time it was best that they take a pass on the negotiations,” said Green about TraPac.

He said JaxPort was talking with TraPac about expansion.

In a statement released Monday, TraPac President and CEO Stephen Edwards said the company appreciates and values the relationship with JaxPort.

“Since forming our partnership, we have seen how important it is for us to have a strategic working relationship with (Green) and (his) staff in order to advance our mutual interest – growing jobs and supporting the economic viability of the shipping industry in Jacksonville,” he said in the release.

Edwards said TraPac “looks forward to our upcoming meetings with Eric and his team so that we can explore through ongoing dialogue how we can advance and grow our opportunities that are in our mutual interests.”



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