Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Lobbies Intensely for Port Dredging Funds; JaxPort Officials Are Encouraged by Visits from Congressmen

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Lobbies Intensely for Port Dredging Funds; JaxPort Officials Are Encouraged by Visits from Congressmen

Article excerpt

Byline: Nate Monroe

A West Virginia Democratic congressman who sits on a powerful House transportation committee is the latest ally in the local push to land an expensive project to deepen JaxPort's shipping channel.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall is the second influential member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to visit Jacksonville in recent weeks and offer words of encouragement on the coveted St. Johns dredging project. It's a sign local officials say is positive even as that same House committee dealt a blow to the local effort in October when it passed a water-development bill that did not include federal authorization for the channel deepening initiative.

"That should send a message to the citizens of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida that this port is viewed to be strategically important and that we have the highest level of attention in trying to determine how best to ensure that the project here is kept on track," said JaxPort CEO Brian Taylor.

JaxPort officials want to deepen the 40-foot shipping channel by 7 feet to accommodate larger cargo ships, which they say is a critical step if the port is to remain competitive in the future.

During a Monday morning tour at JaxPort's Blount Island Marine Terminal, Rahall said he would work with Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and others to help add language authorizing the project. The bill is currently in a conference committee where members of the House and Senate will reconcile their different version of the legislation - known formally as the 2013 Water Resources Development Act.

Congressional authorization would make the project eligible for federal funding the next time a water bill is drafted - there have only been two in the past 14 years. That means the actual federal money could be years away, particularly if the deepening project does not get authorization in this year's bill.

That's why local leaders say they are lobbying intensely for inclusion.

"We need this to happen now," said Mayor Alvin Brown, who plans to push the project during a trip to Washington, D. …

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