JaxPort board accepts $27.5 million city financing deal to raise transmission lines

Officials say the project will cost $45 million and will allow larger, post-Panamax ships to access Jacksonville’s harbor.

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The Jacksonville Port Authority board approved terms of a $27.5 million grant and loan package from the city that will partially finance raising six high-voltage electric transmission lines east of Blount Island Marine Terminal.

The board voted 6-0 on Jan. 23 to accept the money and agreement with City Hall following City Council’s approval earlier this month. 

Council unanimously approved Ordinance 2022-0874 that authorizes the city to lend JaxPort $12.5 million; create a $5 million line of credit; and award a $10 million grant to pay for the cost to raise the Fulton Cut Crossing Transmission Lines over the St. Johns River to 225 feet to allow larger ships to access the port. 

The lines currently have an operational height of 175 feet that will be increased to 205 feet with the additional 20 feet of clearance for safety, according to JaxPort

Port officials say the height is needed to benefit from its four-year, $420 million harbor-deepening project completed in May 2022.

JaxPort worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the 11-mile federal shipping channel in the St. Johns River to 47 feet to allow passage of large, post-Panamax vessels, which are ships that can pass through the enlarged Panama Canal.

Project costs

A summary of the board resolution says the cost of construction is estimated to be $45 million.

The city-owned JEA utility completed and released a feasibility study in May by engineering services company Worley that showed an estimated cost of $33.49 million to $54.42 million to raise the lines. 

Leaders with JaxPort and JEA, the city-owned electric, water and wastewater utility, signed a memorandum of understanding in June that said the port would secure 100% of the funding to raise the lines. JEA acquire materials and labor to do the work.

The power lines cross the St. Johns River east of Blount Island Marine Terminal.
The power lines cross the St. Johns River east of Blount Island Marine Terminal.

JaxPort Chief Financial Officer Beth McCague told the board Jan. 23 that officials have a June target to complete 60% of the project design and would have final cost estimates in August.

The port plans for the project to be complete in 2026. 

The $12.5 million city loan would be repaid over 10 years at 3.5% interest. 

According to the bill summary, the $10 million grant funds will be appropriated in a future fiscal year. 

A breakdown in the board summary says how the money will be appropriated:

• $3.5 million available Oct. 1, 2023

• $4 million available Oct.1, 2024

• $2.5 million available Oct. 1, 2025

The Council’s vote follows a JaxPort board vote in December to accept an initial $1 million from Florida Department of Transportation for the project. 

JaxPort officials say FDOT has committed $22.55 million for the project over the next four years.

If the city provides the port more than $22.5 million in funding to complete the project, JaxPort will have to repay the money. Any cost savings will also be returned to the city on a pro rata basis with FDOT. 

Power line timeline

The power lines were installed in 1982. In December 2020, JaxPort and the St. Johns Bar Pilot Association conducted a simulation that found large ships would need a minimum 197 feet of clearance to safely navigate under the power lines. 

On March 4, JaxPort board member Jamie Shelton sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis that urged JEA to move faster on devising a plan to raise the power lines. 

That was followed by a March 30 letter to JEA CEO Jay Stowe asking for an update on the utility’s plan to ensure the power lines were raised.

JEA officials and the city Office of General Counsel helped negotiate the memorandum of understanding, according to JaxPort Chief of Regulatory Compliance Nick Primrose.

JEA board member John Baker, who was JaxPort board chair in 2019, said in April he supported raising the lines but he also acknowledged the risk and liability moving the lines would create for the utility’s electric system.