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Photos by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - Jacksonville Port Authority Executive Vice President Roy Schleicher and state Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) during Wednesday's meeting. Adkins has been part of the effort to keep the ferry open.
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Aug. 23, 201212:00 PM EST

Port board to support ferry transfer legislation

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

The City ordinance to transfer the operation of the St. Johns River Ferry from the Jacksonville Port Authority to the City met little resistance Wednesday from the port’s board of directors.

During a special meeting, the board voted unanimously, 6-0, to send a resolution supporting an ordinance to City Council regarding the transfer. Board Chairman Stephen Busey, Vice Chairman James Citrano, Treasurer Joe York, Secretary John Anderson and members John Falconetti and Reginald Gaffney were present for the vote.

Board member John Newman had an excused absence.

“The port staff and the Ferry Commission have been top flight during this process and there has been great preparation of this legislation. The spirit of good will overhangs the legality of the negotiations. We are trying to serve the port and the public and that’s not easy to do,” said Anderson.

The legislation defines the transfer of equipment and assets of the ferry operation, which has been controlled by the port since 2007, from the port to the City.

The City developed the St. Johns River Ferry Commission to become the new service operator.

During its February board meeting, the port established a Sept. 30 deadline for a new operator to take over the service.

Port CEO Paul Anderson explained that the $600,000-$700,000 annual deficit for operating the ferry was affecting the port’s ability to pursue its core business and the board agreed that it should discontinue its operation.

Since then, the port has been working with the commission to transfer the operation to the City through legislation.

The board on Wednesday addressed some requests for changes to the legislation made by the commission.

Currently, the port leases land to Hornblower Marine Services in Mayport Village for administrative office and warehouse space. The commission requested that the land be leased to the commission instead of Hornblower and that it would sublease the parcel to the ferry operator to give the commission ownership of the lease.

The commission also requested the lease be increased from one year to two years to ensure that the property would be available to the ferry operator to keep the office and warehouse close to the ferry.

Both amendments were voted down by the port board.

Commission Chairman John Crescimbeni attended the meeting and still was interested in pursuing the issue of which entity leases the land.

“I’m not so much hung up on the length of the lease as I am with who the land is leased to. If they lease the land to Hornblower, the City has no contractual agreement to operate the office and warehouse space on that parcel. We’ve got 45 days to continue the discussion,” said Crescimbeni.

The port board did agree to set aside $35,000 to cover the cost of unused coupon books for one year when the City takes over operation of the ferry. This includes coupons sold before Oct. 1.

The transfer legislation is on the Council agenda Tuesday.

Also being presented Tuesday will be an ordinance that will allocate $200,000 for the ferry’s operation.

Of that, $100,000 would be appropriated from the Council Operating Contingency Fund and the remaining $100,000 would be from lobbyist fees.

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