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.
BYPASS THE PROCESS
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.
IMPRESS THEM WITH PAPER
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.
BLAME THE OTHER SIDE
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?