Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JaxPort Won't Talk Dredging to Groups, Citing Legal Advice

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JaxPort Won't Talk Dredging to Groups, Citing Legal Advice

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein

The Rotary Club of Jacksonville had hoped to hear opposing sides of the debate over plans to deepen the St. Johns River, inviting JaxPort's top administrator to share the podium with a critic during the club's Monday luncheon

But Jacksonville's port authority turned down the invitation, citing an ongoing lawsuit by St. Johns Riverkeeper, an environmental non-profit trying to stop the deep dredge.

A JaxPort official delivered the message in brief remarks to the Rotary Club, which has been a go-to place for discussion of the city's most pressing issues since its founding in 1912. The decision left some Rotary Club members scratching their heads.

Rotary Club member Bill Mason, who used to serve on JaxPort's board, said he doesn't understand why the port authority didn't take up the offer.

"It doesn't make any sense," Mason said after the meeting.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said JaxPort is grasping for excuses to avoid a public discussion about the river deepening, which would require $47 million to $150 million from the city as its share of the $484 million project.

"It's another attempt to avoid a public debate about the pros and cons of this project," Rinaman said.

The Rotary Club heard a presentation by Dale Lewis, a transportation consultant who questioned the economic justification used by JaxPort for the river deepening. The Rotary Club invited Eric Green, interim CEO of JaxPort, to speak as well.

Before Lewis launched his presentation, the club gave Nancy Rubin, communications director for JaxPort, a chance to explain the port authority's decision, which applies to all community groups similar to The Rotary Club.

Rubin said JaxPort has engaged repeatedly over the years in public meetings and community forums about the deepening, but the Riverkeeper's lawsuit prevents JaxPort from participating in those kinds of discussions.

"Regrettably, the Riverkeeper's current lawsuit shifts the harbor deepening conversation into the courthouse and prevents JaxPort from participating in forums such as this one, under advice of our legal counsel," Rubin said. …

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