Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Residents Resist Plan for Blount Island Piers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Residents Resist Plan for Blount Island Piers

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Calnan, Times-Union staff writer

A plan by one of Jacksonville's most powerful businessmen to dock four military supply ships at Blount Island has drawn fire from nearby residents who say the ships will destroy their view of the St. Johns River.

But Herb Peyton's Gate Maritime Properties, which already docks two such ships at Blount Island, says the problem was caused because an industrial-zoned area is across the river from property zoned for residential use.

Gov. Jeb Bush and his Cabinet will have the final say later this month on whether the company can build the piers. Homeowners have an uphill battle: Peyton is a major contributor to the Republican Party and its candidates, including Bush. And even if the company doesn't win this project, the property is zoned for industrial use, making it possible that residents' view of the river will be continually in jeopardy.

Gate wants to build two piers that could be used for four Surge Sealift Ships to be docked two abreast along the river for months at a time.

The contract is due to be awarded by the federal government in August or September, but Gate officials said they won't build the new piers if they don't win a contract.

The ships, which need to be ready to travel to war zones when U.S. military forces need supplies, would cover an area 2,000 feet long , 200 feet wide and about 135 feet high.

"I'm not going to be able to see the sun set again," two-year resident Mark B. Devereaux said.

He and other Little Marsh Island residents living across the St. Johns River from the proposed project said the ships would affect about 55 homeowners.

"We both have the right to be there," said Thomas Mantia, a Gate Maritime vice president. "The conflict is due to a difference in zoning."

A Gate employee yesterday referred calls for Peyton to Mantia.

Surge Sealift Ships are empty, but they must be ready to get to a loading area within five days to bring equipment to military forces. Mantia said no loading would be done at Blount Island.

In addition to aesthetics, Devereaux said the ships would be manned 24 hours a day, and the 52 crew members would dump treated sewage into an area of the river populated by manatees. The ships would also be a natural target for terrorists, he said.

"This is going to be a lightning rod," Devereaux said. "I haven't figured out what benefit this will be to our community. It's not like a company is moving to town and bringing jobs."

Devereaux and other homeowners sent a 17-page letter of objection to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection outlining their concerns about the proposed project.

But Jeremy Tyler, the DEP's environmental administrator of submerged lands, said yesterday the department will recommend approval of the project to the governor and his Cabinet, which are scheduled to consider the issue June 26. …

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