JAXPORT Avoids Dredging Debate

JAXPORT Avoids Dredging Debate Image credit: Florida Times-Union

In an attempt to head off public scrutiny of the proposed dredging, JAXPORT has recently deployed three strategies - 1) delay the ask for local funding until the dredging is well underway, 2) make false claims the project has already been fully vetted and 3) hide behind St. Johns RIVERKEEPER's lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers to avoid participation in any public dialogue. 


In June, JAXPORT announced a new plan to dredge 11 miles of the St. Johns River, instead of 13, that would not require funding from the City of Jacksonville until 2020.  This would allow JAXPORT to begin dredging later this year, before the project has been fully vetted and approved by the local community.  Throughout the entire decision-making process, it has always been presented to the public that the City Council would be the last stop and best opportunty to ensure that the proposed dredging has been comprehensively reviewed, scrutinized and debated.  Under this new plan, JAXPORT does not plan to come back to the City Council for funding until the project is well underway and Jacksonville is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. At that point, the opportunity for a meaningful public debate may be lost and the City Council will be boxed in a corner.


JAXPORT recently provided Jacksonville City Council members with a four-inch binder of public meeting notices, agendas, and minutes related to harbor deepening discussions that have occurred in the past 6 years.  

JAXPORT would like us all to believe that the proposed dredging has already been thoroughly evaluated and publicly vetted and no further discussion is necessary.

However, we took the time to analyze all of the documents in the binder, and nothing could be further from the truth.   In fact, we participated in most of the referenced meetings while JAXPORT sat silently along the sideline.

The documents submitted to City Council actually demonstrate that JAXPORT has made little attempt to provide or even encourage a robust community dialogue and comprehensive assessment of this project. Most of the meetings cited only included brief updates on the status of the dredging or a specific component of the project and did not provide a complete picture of the project or a platform for broad public participation and discussion.

Numerous documents even refer to presentations and comments that St. Johns RIVERKEEPER provided to various organizations, commissions, and boards regarding the shortcomings of the dredging plan, the unanswered questions that remain, and the need for a more comprehensive vetting of the project. 

In response to JAXPORT's attempt to shutdown public dialogue, we submitted a letter to the Council members calling for a transparent public discussion about the pros and cons of the dredging project.  

Our letter included an assessment of the JAXPORT binder documents, demonstrating that there have been no public meetings have been held to discuss:

  • the new 11-mile dredging plan,
  • the total cost of the harbor expansion (including tenant relocation costs and landside improvements),
  • funding sources and Jacksonville’s anticipated financial obligations, the recent analysis by Dale Lewis and Dr. Asaf Ashar questioning the economic viability of the project, or
  • the tradeoffs in local public programs and services that would be necessary in future years.

In addition, these meetings all failed to adequately address the flaws in the Army Corps of Engineers' economic and environmental assessment and the lack of mitigation that exists to offset the inevitable damage that will occur to our river.

The bottom line is that these documents demonstrate a lack of transparency and a lack of full disclosure, reinforcing the need for robust public dialogue and comprehensive evaluation by City Council and the local community before the project begins. 


The third strategy that JAXPORT is using is the excuse that our lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers is preventing them from participating in any public debate or forum regarding the proposed dredging.   As a result, JAXPORT has refused to particiipate in a recent Rotary Club meeting with Dale Lewis (local logistics expert who has questioned the economic viability of the project), a public forum that was being organized by the Dupont Foundation, or any potential public meetings held by the Jacksonville City Council to discuss the pros and cons of the project.  

However, the lawsuit is aimed at the Army Corps of Engineers, not JAXPORT.  The port voluntarily decided to intervene in our lawsuit.  As the City's attorney told the JAXPORT Board, intervention provides the benefit of "knowing exactly what's going on" and discussions "could be held in the Shade as JAXPORT is subject to sunshine laws and public record laws."    Our lawsuit is not preventing JAXPORT from participating in public dialogue and debate about the dredging.  JAXPORT is preventing it to avoid public scrutiny. 

CLICK HERE to learn more about this important issue and how it will impact the future of the St. Johns River.  

Also, read this letter that we recently submitted to Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche outlining our concerns and the actions that must take place to protect our river and local taxpayers before the project proceeds. 

READ: Ron Littlepage: Why are dredging supporters afraid to have a debate over spending the public’s money?

How Will Dredging Impact Sea Level Rise?

How Will Dredging Impact Sea Level Rise?

This post is by Dr. Jeremy Stalker.  Jeremy is an Associate Professor at Jacksonville University in the Marine Science Research Institute.

Dredging Will Accelerate the Impacts of Sea Level Rise

I will always support responsible, well thought out development for our city. I also support ideas that have forethought, looking into the future and using the best science to guide decisions. The proposed dredging of the St Johns River does not fit these criteria.

I have been studying hydrology and sea level rise in North Florida for 6 years and in South Florida for 12 years. The scientific analysis presented by the Army Corp of Engineers to estimate the physical impacts in the river are incorrect, incomplete, and seriously flawed.

Estuaries like the St. Johns River are dynamic systems that change in temperature and tide with each season, tide and storm. These systems and the plants and animals that live in them are well adapted to these changes. They can even withstand extreme events of high temperatures and high salinities for short periods of time. The analysis of the proposed dredging ignores the steadily increasing rise of sea level and its impacts. This plan uses an exceptionally low rate of sea level rise that is not supported by any scientific observations currently being collected.

Sea levels are rising, and in most places accelerating. Worldwide, flooding events caused by the regular high tide, often coupled with normal rainfall are becoming more and more frequent. You really only need to go down to St. Augustine at a high tide after a summer rainstorm to see water backing up into the streets. At times, we also see this happening in low-lying areas of Jacksonville, like San Marco and Riverside.

This will become more and more common in our coastal cities, and our cities connected to tidal rivers. This higher sea level will push saltwater farther up the river. The dredging will accelerate this salinization process by increasing the volume of area the seawater can enter through.

It will push salty water deeper into tributaries and further up the mainstream of the river. This will also increase the length of time the plants and animals will have to withstand higher salinities. The likely increase in freshwater withdrawals from the river upstream in Central Florida will only exacerbate this problem. These kinds of extended, extreme occurrences have led to sea grass die-off events in both Biscayne and Florida Bays. Plants and animals that depend on brackish conditions will find their habitat diminished.

The rise of sea level isn't going to go away. Even if we begin limiting the causes of ice loss, the system will move towards higher levels for centuries before slowing down.

I hope our regulatory agencies will use sound science, and be honest about the impacts so we can make good, informed decisions. Ignoring the rising seas and their effects on the modeling is short-sighted, simply pushing off the problem to our children and grandchildren. We need an honest assessment of the environmental impacts of the dredging, and only then can we really weigh the cost and benefits.

Click here for more information about the proposed dredging of the St. Johns River.

How Will Dredging Impact Fisheries?

How Will Dredging Impact Fisheries? Photo credit: Will Dickey, willdickey.com

This post is by Dr. Clay L. Montague.  Clay is an Associate Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida in the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences.

How Harbor Deepening Impacts Migratory Fishes

Decisions about JAXPORT harbor deepening are being based on incomplete data that may affect you and your food supply. Harbor deepening could eliminate key habitat for seafood production near the freshwater ends of tidal creeks.

Duval County alone includes more than sixty tributaries of the St Johns River estuary, from tiny Mud Flats Creek at Spanish Point to large ones like Clapboard Creek, Trout River, Arlington River, Ortega River and Julington Creek. You may live near a creek that connects to the St Johns River estuary. Many if not all of these tributaries include sensitive habitat for coastal fishes.
Harbor deepening lets in more saltwater from the ocean. The salt travels upstream with the incoming tides, eventually squeezing the brackish and fresh habitat into a smaller space between salt marsh and upland, or overwhelming it altogether. 

Over the past 50 years, shad, herrings, striped bass, and eels have been in steep decline all along the Atlantic seaboard owing to a variety of assaults on their habitat. Most other commercially and recreationally important fish, shrimp, and crabs also depend on fresh or brackish habitat during some part of their lives. Fishery managers are now trying to restore habitat for all those special coastal species we use as food. Unmitigated impacts of harbor deepening will set back this effort. 

The modeling studies to assess the impact of JAXPORT deepening have not adequately evaluated loss of habitat in the vital upstream portions of the many tributaries. In particular, data available to compare with model predictions at the upper reach of Clapboard Creek apparently went unused. 

Also, model calibration was done only for a period of drought, incorrectly assuming a worst case scenario. In fact, salinity intrusion during a wet period would be the time when these fresher habitats are well used by fishes, and are therefore most sensitive to a salinity increase caused by harbor deepening. 

Furthermore, in a wetlands assessment for the project, upstream impacts of downstream activities seemed to be discounted, perhaps unwittingly, if the assessors hired were not familiar with tidal creeks. In estuaries, effects of downstream actions can easily reach upstream habitats on every incoming tide. 

Predictions about upstream impacts in tributaries are crucial to get right if we are to manage seafood production effectively, and compensate appropriately for any damage. Since both validation and calibration of the models seem wholly inadequate, conclusions that impacts are insignificant are unsupportable and probably wrong.

Some have quipped that since sea level is rising, more salt is entering anyway, so why bother? We would not apply that reasoning to our own passing, lest it become an excuse for murder. In the coming century, rising sea level may indeed drive a general retreat from the coast. Even if the only value of fish is for food, our imperative would naturally be to care dearly for the remaining habitat we have for as long as we can. With care, the next century of fish production will support many seafood dinners in spite of rising sea level. 

We need not retreat from the coast before necessary, but we can plan better. We can insist on impact predictions based on the best possible modeling efforts and data. With accurate predictions, we can decide together if the project is worth the damage.

Click here for more information about the proposed dredging of the St. Johns River.

How Will Dredging Impact Algal Blooms?

How Will Dredging Impact Algal Blooms?

This post is by Robert Storm Burks.  Robert is an aquatic biologist/ecologist who formerly led scientific investigations on the St Johns River for the State of Florida for the last decade.

How will dredging the St Johns River impact algal blooms?

Algal blooms are not new to the St Johns River. In 2005, a spectacular bloom that became known as the “Green Monster” was experienced locally and created such a stunning visual, that scientists I worked with in remote sections of Bolivia were aware of it. Many of you have seen the bright green blooms on the surface of the water since that time, and they continue to appear along our shorelines in NE Florida. Recent blooms in south Florida shut down businesses, creating adverse health and economic impacts.

While many people call them blue-green algal blooms, scientists have learned that the organisms are more closely related to bacteria, classifying them as cyanobacteria. These cyanobacteria have been around for millions of years, and are considered one of the first oxygen producing species on earth. However, in recent times, frequencies and intensities of the blooms have increased around the world, including NE Florida. Given the right combination of nutrients in the water, sunlight, and optimal weather conditions, these blooms can cover large portions of our river. Worldwide increases temperatures are projected to cause more blooms, as many species of this bacteria thrive in warmer waters.

Over the years, we have collected and identified many species of cyanobacteria that live in the St Johns River. Many of these species are capable of producing toxins that can impact wildlife, pets, and people who work, recreate, and live along the river. One group of these toxins, known as hepatotoxins, target the liver and other vital organs. Another group, the neurotoxins, will attack the nervous system, and can impact breathing. Yet a third type of toxin produced by cyanobacteria can pass through the blood brain barrier of mammals and has recently been shown to impact brain cells creating symptoms similar to degenerative brain conditions like ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

Primary routes of exposure include ingestion from drinking contaminated water. While most people aren’t going to pour a glass of St Johns River water, much of this comes from incidental swallowing during recreational water activities such as skiing, swimming, tubing, etc. Also, we do know that some species of aquatic life can concentrate these toxins, and are then eaten either by mammals such as dolphins or people. Boiling water will only concentrate these toxins.

An often overlooked form of exposure is inhalation. Toxins at the surface can become airborne, or aerosolized by wind, wave action, boat traffic, and helicopter maneuvers. Exposure can be acute (higher concentrations at once) or chronic (lower concentrations over time).

This field is rapidly expanding, and we are gaining insight into the conditions in which certain species of cyanobacteria produce and release toxins. We do know that the death of cells containing toxins will release (lyse) them into the surrounding waters. This means that toxin containing fresh water species that cannot live in salt water will release them upon exposure to higher salinities . Since the St Johns river is much wider west and south of Jacksonville (Riverside, Ortega, San Marco, Orange Park, Mandarin), a much larger surface area may increase toxin exposure to the public in this area from both water and airborne toxins.

There have been numerous projections of adverse impacts due to increased salinity upstream from dredging to native trees, aquatic vegetation, habitat, and fisheries in the river. No studies have been performed for impacts to wildlife or public exposure to potential toxins from cyanobacteria blooms in the river.

Because dredging the St Johns River will permanently alter the environment in significant ways, my sincere hope is that local leaders will take the time to consider all the potential impacts to the health of Jacksonville residents and their natural resources before setting a project of this magnitude into motion. 

Click here for more information about the proposed dredging of the St. Johns River. 

Avoid Potentially Toxic Algal Blooms

Avoid Potentially Toxic Algal Blooms Boy Scouts Camp on Doctors Lake


July 21, 2017

Contact: Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper


Jacksonville, FL -- On July 12, 2017, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER took a sample of a blue-green algae or cyanobacteria bloom from Doctors Lake in Clay County. Test results from GreenWater Laboratories detected total microcystin toxin levels of 14.1 micrograms per liter, or more than 3 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft criteria for recreational exposure of 4 micrograms per liter. 

Microcystins are toxins produced by cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. Exposure to algal toxins can cause adverse health effects in humans and animals, including skin irritation, flu-like stomach ailments, hay fever-like symptoms, itchy eyes, asthma, and even liver damage.

On July 12, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) also took four samples from Doctors Lake, all with microcystin toxin concentrations higher than the EPA safe exposure threshold.

SJRWMD sample location and toxicity results include:
Doctors Lake Boat Ramp - 10.4 micrograms/liter of microsystin
East shore of Doctors Lake - 9.20 micrograms/liter of microcystin
Swimming Pen - 9.05 micrograms/liter of microcystin
Southwest shore of Doctors Lake - 4.75 micrograms/liter of microcystin

Note: The SJRWMD takes samples at .3 meters below the surface. It is likely the toxin concentrations were actually higher at the surface where the public and pets are more likely to come into contact with the cyanobacteria.

Since it is not possible to visually tell if a bloom is toxic, it is recommended to avoid all algal blooms. Do not come in contact with the algae, and do not allow pets or livestock to swim in or drink water where blooms are present. If you, your children or your animals accidently come in contact with an algal bloom, wash with fresh water and soap after skin contact and avoid swallowing or inhaling water. Wash your animals thoroughly before they start to groom themselves. People with liver problems (such as cirrhosis or hepatitis) may be at increased risk of harm from these toxins.

To report algal blooms, call 855-305-3903 or go to www.reportalgalbloom.com.

You can also track recently reported algal blooms and sampling results at this Florida Department of Environmental Protection website:

Algal blooms often occur as a result of excessive concentration of nutrients, in our river and waterways. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous can feed uncontrolled algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water needed by fish, reduce light that is essential to submerged vegetation, and threaten the health of both humans and aquatic life.

The St. Johns River, including Doctors Lake, suffers from an excess of nutrients from failing septic tanks, manure, commercial and municipal wastewater discharges, stormwater runoff, and fertilizers that regularly wash into the river.

We all can make a difference by reducing our use of fertilizers, preventing runoff, maintaining septic tanks, and adopting other River Friendly practices. Learn more at www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/river-friendly.

"Unfortunately, most of these algae blooms that are occurring in Doctors Lake and the St. Johns River have the potential to produce dangerous toxins,” states Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. "However, our river will continue to be sick and the health of our families will continue to be at risk from exposure to toxic algae, until we reduce the amount of nutrient pollution going into our waterways."

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JAXPORT Avoids Dredging Debate
JAXPORT Avoids Dredging Debate
How Will Dredging Impact Sea Level Rise?
How Will Dredging Impact Sea Level Rise?
How Will Dredging Impact Fisheries?
How Will Dredging Impact Fisheries?
How Will Dredging Impact Algal Blooms?
How Will Dredging Impact Algal Blooms?

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