Army Corps of Engineers Puts Target on Little Jetty; Port Authority Endorses Plan, but Some Question $37 Million Cost

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Byline: Drew Dixon

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Jacksonville Port Authority officials say removing a jetty that sits at the juncture of the St. Johns River and the Intracoastal Waterway will make for smoother sailing for large ships, but some are questioning the value of the proposed $37 million project.

Army Corps Project Manager Steve Ross gave a presentation to the Jacksonville Waterways Commission this week outlining why and how the agency would remove the so-called "little jetty" at an area known as Mile Point. He said the design of that jetty, which was built a century ago, is outdated. That's because when the ebb tide recedes, it creates turbulent cross currents in the area where the Intracoastal empties into the St. Johns.

This turbulence reduces the amount of time large shipping vessels can use the St. Johns channel by about 8 1/2 hours a day. Many cargo vessels have to wait for hours outside the mouth of the St. Johns for the right time and conditions to enter the port, costing valuable time and money with the delays.

"It [the revamp] will relocate those currents and spread them out ... and they'll be more in line with the St. Johns River channel," Ross said.

He explained that the jetty forces the receding water from the Intracoastal to collide with the St. Johns at about a 45-degree angle during receding tides. That's the major source of the cross currents.

The project has already been endorsed by port authority officials, who say it will help major cargo vessels.

"They have roughly 4 to 4 1/2 hours twice a day surrounding each of the high tides," said JaxPort Chief Operating Officer Chris Kauffmann during the Waterways Commission meeting. "Opening up that window is going to give us the ability to market" shipping terminals at the port.

City Councilman John Crescimbeni, a Waterways Commission member, asked Kauffmann how many hours a day shipping vessels with drafts of 40 feet, which is about the same depth as the shipping channel, would be able to use the river after the reconfiguration.

"In general, I would say you're going to have 10 or 12 hours a day," said Kauffmann.

Crescimbeni said he was not impressed.

"So, fixing Mile Point, we're going to boost that by about an hour-and-a-half," said Crescembini. "It doesn't sound like much for the expense."

But Kauffmann said any port has restrictions on vessel traffic. For instance, Savannah, Ga., considered a major competitor to JaxPort, is limited to one-way traffic because the channel is so narrow, causing many delays for ships. …