by Glenn Tschimpke
The Jacksonville Port Authority and Mayor John Delaney feel a bit shortchanged after Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta dispersed $92.3 million in security grants to 51 ports nationwide in June. Although Florida received over 21 percent of the money, nearly $20 million, Jaxport’s cut was $297,000.
“Jaxport’s $297,000 is the lowest of any ports in the Southeast,” said Brad Thoburn, director of intergovernmental relations for the mayor’s office. “We never even had a clear explanation of why our port didn’t score well.”
Jacksonville’s port was one of 850 applicants vying for the national grant money, and submitted a bid for six projects totaling $2.8 million. Without trying to sound ungrateful, Jaxport spokesperson Robert Peek said they were “hoping to get more money than we received.”
“When you look at the money that was given to the other ports in Florida, we received much less than the others,” he said.
South Florida reaped the largest grants nationwide with $6.3 million going to Miami-Dade County and $6.8 million going to Broward County. Tampa received $3.5 million and a private company in Key West received $500,000 for security upgrades. The Georgia Port Authority in Savannah was awarded $1.3 million.
The imbalance of award amounts leaves officials in Jacksonville scratching their heads.
“It’s not even necessarily a fair share issue, it’s a national security issue,” said Thoburn. “If we don’t have the highest priority and we don’t get the funding, we can live with that. But we have Blount Island and the military and we should be high priority.”
Jaxport’s $297,000 will go toward improving security cameras at Blount Island, according to Peek. The remainder of the $2.8 million would have gone toward unspecified improvements.
“They’re all facility improvements,” said Peek.
Maritime Administration spokesperson Robyn Boerstling offered an explanation on five of six elements of Jaxport’s application that were denied funding. One proposal, called the Access Control Tracking Vehicle and Visitor Control, was not necessarily a bad idea, but could have been denied because the Department of Transportation is looking at developing a national identification system. Jaxport also proposed additional perimeter fencing in addition to its existing barrier.
“The review team was looking for ports that didn’t even have fencing,” said Boerstling.
Additional lighting was also proposed.
“They already had lighting,” she added.
Not that Jaxport’s needs are any less important than any other ports, explained Boerstling. Jacksonville’s priorities probably didn’t warrant the funding it requested.
Jaxport’s relatively small grant prompted Delaney to send a letter to Secretary Mineta expressing his concerns. In it, he stressed Jacksonville’s military presence.
“Jaxport’s Blount Island Marine Terminal is one of only 13 U.S. ports designated as a military strategic port, a designation reflective of Jacksonville’s major logistics role in the military supply chain,” he wrote. “Port security must be sufficient to meet the need of federal agencies to ensure a smooth supply effort . . .
“While we are aware that U.S. DOT is unable to fully fund all requests, it is difficult to comprehend how a federally-designated Strategic Port, particularly one as critical as the one in Jacksonville, failed to rank highly for the purposes of DOT’s Port Security Grant Awards.”
Mineta replied, explaining that limited funding and higher priority projects cut Jaxport short. In addition, two private entities in Jacksonville received funding — a Jacksonville Maritime Transportation Exchange project ($240,000) and a Crowley Liner Services project ($268,000).
The combined $805,000 is still far short of other Florida cities. Speculation is that ports with heavy cruise ship activity tended to receive more funding than those without to protect people rather than equipment.
Coast Guard Capt. Mike Rosecrans, who played a limited role in the award selection process, said the division of grants can be read both ways.
“If you want more money, it could be a bad thing because the port is in bad shape,” he said. “Maybe Jacksonville is in better shape than anybody else. Anytime grant money is involved, somebody is going to say they didn’t get their fair share.”
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, somewhat shocked by Jaxport’s small grant, points to next time.
“What happened was when they set up the grant procedure, the emphasis should have been ports with military facilities,” she said. “During Operation Desert Storm, Jacksonville moved more military supplies than any other port. We’re at war right now. If we have to move things, we’ll be a target.”
Brown concurred that emphasis was placed on ports with a large cruise ship presence. She vowed that Jacksonville would receive more money when more grant money is given out, possibly in October.