Credit: Army Corps of Engineers

The following is an editorial from Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, that appeared in the 5.2.14  Jacksonville Business Journal:

"St. Johns Riverkeeper supports the responsible use of our river. However, it must not cause significant harm, must be fully vetted, and should generate a favorable return on investment for the rightful owners of the St. Johns – the public. Unfortunately, the proposal by Jaxport to remove 56 million cubic yards of rock and sediment (about 1.6 million dump truck loads) from the river bottom to attract larger ships fails to meet this test on all accounts.

By dredging the St. Johns nearly 18% deeper, salt water will move farther upstream. This will damage or destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands, submerged grasses, and trees in parts of the river and its tributaries, such as Julington Creek and Ortega River. Critical habitat for fisheries and pollution filters for our river will be lost in the process. Water will remain in the river longer, increasing concentrations of pollutants and the probability of algal blooms. Larger ships will create larger wakes, increasing the likelihood of shoreline erosion. Regrettably, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is planning to do little to offset these impacts. The mitigation plan mostly calls for monitoring with no guarantee of corrective action once the damage is done.

In addition, the USACE’s analysis is flawed and incomplete, significantly underestimating the potential harm to the St. Johns River and overestimating the economic benefits. A peer review by an independent panel of experts concluded that the analysis of salinity results “provide an incomplete understanding of the impacts of channel enlargement." They also concluded that "The Regional Economic Development (RED) benefits are incorrectly attributed to the harbor deepening and therefore overemphasize regional benefits of the Jacksonville Harbor Project."

Jaxport’s own consultant said "the idea that the Panama Canal will instantly bring more business to the Eastern Seaboard is an ‘urban myth.’ Whatever business the Atlantic ports could easily take from Los Angeles and other Pacific cities has already moved east.”

Are we willing to risk irreparable harm to the river, when so many questions and uncertainties remain? Can we afford to gamble with over $700 million and the future of the St. Johns on such a speculative project that has not even been fully vetted?"