Many people say they want to dredge the St. Johns River. I am hoping to reverse the rush toward dredging, and I have an alternative plan. This plan is based on my 45 years’ experience as a Merchant Marine, while serving 35 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve and active duty service. I retired as a USN Commander; and spent my last 23 years in the Merchant Marine as a Chief Engineer.

Instead of dredging, I want to put local people to work here, take many trucks off the road (by using CSX Railroad) and build our economy. Dredging will cost $800 million to $1 billion and we will risk cracking through the rock of the river bottom or creating saltwater intrusion.

My alternate plan includes:


• Build an off-load/reload terminal
for cargo containers near the Little Jetties Park near Mayport, or at a similar property at the head of the St. Johns River.

• Build a rail line from this terminal along the south side of the river, with bridges as necessary, to the north end of Bartram (Quarantine) Island, with a loading pier. Construct a self-propelled barge (at BAE Systems?), like the barges used by New York Harbor Railroad to transport cargo containers on rail cars from New Jersey to Brooklyn. This barge would be self-propelled and would use liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the fuel for the engines. The new LNG facility being built in Jacksonville could supply the fuel. 

• CSX railroad would build a pier near Imeson Industries property to off-load rail cars from Mayport, and then send container rail cars back to the Mayport facility for trans-shipment to other cities in the U.S., or to foreign countries.


The plan would work this way: When a large cargo ship enters the river, a portion of the cargo containers (20,000-30,000 tons or as necessary for draft) would be off-loaded at the terminal onto a railroad train to be shipped on the railroad under the Dames Point Bridge to Bartram Island, where it will be transferred to a self-propelled railroad barge. The barge will ferry the rail cars with the containers filled with cargo across the river to Imeson railroad terminal, where it will be transported to multiple destinations throughout the country by rail. Once a container is loaded onto a railroad car, it will stay on the rail car until it reaches its final destination. No reloading!

The railroad car will cross the river on the barge. The partially off-loaded ships will then transport the remaining cargo to Tallyrand or Downtown, at less draft. By off-loading at Mayport, Jacksonville will be able to handle any size ship, at any depth. Partially loaded ships could go Downtown to off-load and reload, then back to Mayport to finish loading. No size ship will be refused by Jacksonville using this concept; this plan will last for many, many years into the future.

Expected results of this plan would be: We would reduce the number of trucks on our roads because a significant portion of the port’s cargo would be shipped by rail from the dock near the Little Jetties Park. There will be no trucks on Mayport Road. One railroad car eliminates 3.5 trucks, and can carry up to 130 tons of cargo.

Now, and in the future, there will be a shortage of drivers. Also, trains create less pollution than trucks. Note: We now have a shortage of truck drivers and the government is changing the rules. Drivers will be required to drive about 10 percent less, with a minimum of two adjacent days off per week. Tired drivers cause accidents. In the winter, when trucks are driving on slippery roads, there are more pile-ups (as we’ve seen on the news).

Sam Walton’s old policy was: “no foreign products.” Walmart ran an ad in USA Today several months ago about its plan to invest $250 billion over 10 years to bring manufacturing back to the United States. Think about it! China steals our technology, manufactures products and then ships them to us — we pay and have an unemployment problem. Instead, as per USA Today, imports will decrease nationally. There will be fewer container ships coming to our ports. Some cargo will be shipped across the country by railroad at approximately 30 percent of the cost of shipping on trucks.

Maersk Lines has built one ship, with two more ships on order for the West Coast Trade. They are 1,302 feet long, do 30 knots, travel to China in five or six days each way, and carry 15,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent containers). As a comparison, the largest container ship that has called in Jacksonville carries around 8,000 TEUs. I don’t know why the Chamber and others think that the volume of container cargo will continue to come to Jacksonville. The amount of cargo being imported to the East Coast will be reduced. What does come in could be shipped cheaper by railroad. If we dredge, Jacksonville will have a deeper port, but will have fewer ships in the future.

Dredging in West Palm Beach cost $2 billion; Miami, $2 billion including a new tunnel for trucks; Port Canaveral, $700 million to start. GT USA has invested another $100 million and has recently opened its new container terminal on 20 acres in Port Canaveral. These ports are closer to the Panama Canal. They will be taking cargo containers away from JaxPort. Port Canaveral will expand its port facilities to include two more passenger terminal docks and two container piers, with two of the largest container cranes in the world being built. All these cities will load most of the containers on trucks, and send them north on I-95, through Jacksonville. We’ll get the broken tires and pollution. When manufacturing does come back to the U.S., will we regret spending our city’s cash where it may not be needed? Dredging the river is only a temporary solution; it will have to be done again in the future.

Remember: If we build an off-load terminal at Mayport, this facility could be used by larger ships going to other lesser draft ports. We could lighten up ships and we would get the handling fees and the railroad fees. Plus, we would not have as many ships going Downtown, saving many hours and transportation costs. We can also do that in reverse. Ships could load in other ports or Downtown Jacksonville and top off in Mayport, before going overseas. I have heard that ships have left 18,000 to 20,000 tons of cargo on the dock because our river is too shallow to get the ships out. These ships could be topped off at the topping-off terminal at the mouth of the river and could leave fully loaded. This sounds like a win-win to me!

The cost of transportation by rail is one-third the cost of trucks and road maintenance. So let’s rethink what we are planning. Let’s not try to compete with the other deep ports. We will always be playing catch-up, because dredging the river at this time will only be a temporary fix. Let’s use a different way to move cargo. Let’s build for the future and put many more local people to work.

People will say, “Where will we get the money?” I say, “Let’s start with the $800 million to $1 billion we will save by not dredging the river.” Two things are happening: The river is caving in due to dredging in the past (Liberty Street and Heckscher Drive), and our roads are deteriorating due to the additional truck traffic.