JEA and JaxPort plan to increase power lines to accommodate larger cargo ships

JaxPort and JEA have agreed on a plan to hoist power lines spanning the St. Johns River by 2026 so the high-voltage cables don’t present an air obstacle to giant cargo ships coming to Jacksonville.

JaxPort and JEA officials have had awkward conversations over the power lines for a number of years. Earlier this year, a JEA board member claimed that “boring” JEA admins had no interest in raising them.

JEA has stated that it is fulfilling all of its commitments by first completing a feasibility study on the project.

The JaxPort board of directors on Monday unanimously approved a letter of intent that would see the Port Authority responsible for securing the estimated $42 million needed to install new towers that will hold the elevated transmission lines.

More about the power lines:JaxPort board member wants firm opinion on whether JEA needs to raise power lines

The port is growing:The Port of Jacksonville joins Savannah and Miami in the Asian cargo deepwater club

More:Power lines and power plays in Jacksonville’s quest to attract the largest cargo ships

JEA, which owns the power lines that power about half of its customers, will undertake construction, according to the memorandum.

JaxPort CEO Eric Green said the agreement signals a move toward building a partnership with the utility.

“We don’t think about it anymore,” he said. “We sign on the dotted line and move on.”

JEA CEO Jay Stowe said Monday he is “delighted that we are moving forward with JaxPort” and developing plans to increase lines in a “safe, responsible and commercially fair manner.”

“JEA is focused on best meeting growing needs in Northeast Florida and driving economic growth in the region,” he said in a statement. “This project will allow for larger ships, creating more jobs and economic growth in Northeast Florida.”

The project marks a continuation of the utility’s involvement in economic development projects such as its investment in the conversion of a former Navy base on the Westside into a Cecil Commerce Center.

In the case of the power lines, JEA has said its customers’ money should not pay for the project. The LOI states that JaxPort will be responsible for 100% of the costs.

The memorandum is “only a first step”. JaxPort’s chief of regulatory compliance, Nick Primrose, told the board.

The next step will be a detailed inter-local agreement. The JEA Board will consider at this point with a vote on an agreement.

Green said JaxPort is in talks with various agencies and may have an announcement on its funding partners in the next 60 days.

JaxPort and the US Army Corps of Engineers last month marked the completion of deepening the St. Johns River 47 feet for cargo ships to the Blount Island Terminal, east of the Dames Point Bridge.

The Corps and JaxPort said during the extensive river deepening study that no aerial structures such as the power lines or the Dames Point Bridge would impede the passage of the larger ships coming into Jacksonville with deeper water. But the Corps and JaxPort say since this study was conducted, the size of ocean-crossing ships has increased dramatically.

Ships bound for Blount Island do not have to pass under the bridge, but do pass under the power lines that cross the river at an elevation of 175 feet east of Blount Island.

The project schedule begins this year with JEA providing technical service and site surveys for an estimated cost of US$350,000.

JEA will handle project design and approval for $750,000 in 2023. JaxPort will need to provide the bulk of the funding in 2024-26 as JEA builds and installs the new towers and lines.

Trailer Bridge signs lease extension through 2041

Elsewhere, at the JaxPort board meeting, the board renewed a lease with long-time tenant Trailer Bridge to use Blount Island for its Puerto Rico shipping operations through January 2041.

Trailer Bridge will use nearly 34 acres of Blount Island. Trailer Bridge, Crowley and TOTE form the core of Jacksonville’s status as a major hub for shipping between the mainland and Puerto Rico.

“This is a big deal for Trailer Bridge,” said Mitch Luciano, CEO of the Jacksonville-based company. “It really prepares us to make the investments that we need to make in Puerto Rican commerce because we know we have a long-term lease.”

JaxPort and Trailer Bridge were joined at the signing ceremony by Joel Piza-Batiz, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority. The Company’s Jacksonville lease is for the same term as the Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico lease.

Trailer Bridge and other shippers serving Puerto Rico and the Caribbean operate vessels that do not require deeper water or higher power lines. The Puerto Rico connection is the “bread and butter” for the port, said Robert Peek, JaxPort’s chief commercial officer.

He said the ships that carry Asian trade offer the greatest potential for growth, and these need deeper water and elevated power lines.

“We want to grow globally,” said Peek.

About Thelma Wilt

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