Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BRING ON BIG BOATS; Power Lines across River Won't Short-Circuit Quest for Larger Cargo Ships

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BRING ON BIG BOATS; Power Lines across River Won't Short-Circuit Quest for Larger Cargo Ships

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein

The high-voltage power lines that span the St. Johns River and touch down on Blount Island were installed long before the Jacksonville Port Authority landed business from ocean-crossing cargo ships whose size is growing in leaps and bounds.

The transmission lines aren't as visible as the nearby Dames Point bridge, but the cables are just as much of a restriction on the size of cargo ships that can sail under them on the way to unload at Jacksonville's port.

JaxPort officials, who are pursuing a $484 million river deepening project so Jacksonville can handle the next generation of jumbo-sized cargo ships, say the power lines don't pose an obstacle to their push to compete with other Southeast ports that also are deepening their harbors.

"As far as we're concerned, impacts down the road, maybe," JaxPort spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said. "Right now, the largest ships will be accommodated at Blount Island quite nicely."

The rapid growth in the size of cargo ships caused the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to embark on a $1.3 billion project to raise the height of the Bayonne Bridge so it is 215 feet above the water, an increase of 64 feet.

City Council member Lori Boyer said she wants JaxPort to give a full assessment of all the factors affecting the drive to make Jacksonville a top-tier port, including items like the transmission lines that aren't covered by the $484 million cost of deepening 11 miles of the river.

"I just want to see all the pieces, because sometimes we do these (projects) where we look at one piece, and then there are two or three things that happen as a result that have big price tags that we're not aware of," Boyer said.

JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said the utility has had discussions in the past with JaxPort about the transmission lines. She said raising the lines so they are higher above the water isn't feasible "from a reliability, safety and engineering standpoint."

The power lines have a permitted vertical clearance of 175 feet, according to JEA. The Dames Point bridge has a vertical clearance of 174 feet for ships at high tide, compared to 186 feet for the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge at the port in Charleston S.C., and 185 feet for the Talmadge Memorial Bridge at the Savannah, Ga., port.

Currently, cargo ships going to the TraPac terminal on the west side of the Dames Point bridge have no problems sailing under the bridge. JaxPort plans to relocate TraPac to the east side of the bridge, at Blount Island, which would eliminate the Dames Point bridge as a future obstacle to the passage of the larger ocean-crossing cargo ships.

"We saw that as a positive," TraPac spokesman Michael Munz said.

Cargo ships still would have to sail under the transmission lines spanning the river to reach the Blount Island docks. …

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