The Port of Port St. Joe Port Authority is one step closer to securing $15 million from Triumph to help fund a dredging project that would deepen the channel allowing ships to enter the bay.
On Sept. 13, the Triumph Board agreed to move the Port Authority’s application for the money along to the second step in their three-step process. According to Jim McKnight, director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition, the first step in this process was the largest hurdle in securing funding.
“There’s three levels of approval, but the first step’s the big one,” he said. “Triumph said ‘OK, this is something we want to do.’ Now the next step will be the term sheet, and that’s where they do the discussion of the exact terms of how the agreement will be made.”
Chairman of the Port Authority Guerry Magidson said getting this approval was an exciting development in a project he has been working on for more than a decade.
Triumph’s $15 million would cover only a portion of the project’s $56 million projected cost. The Port Authority expects to receive a total of $21.5 million from the Florida Department of Transportation and about $12.3 million from The St. Joe Company.
“It's been a real long time, but hopefully we're at the point that things may happen,” Magidson said. "Getting the go-ahead from the Triumph board will help us tremendously in getting the other two funding sources.”
Additionally, the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners intends to fund $7.5 million of the project through the Community Development Block Grant program. They have resubmitted the project for consideration in the upcoming infrastructure round after failing to get it approved as part of the state’s Rebuild Florida Hometown Revitalization program.
However, the dredging project was ranked under other initiatives in that application, and the county is unsure they will be able to secure the money this round.
McKnight explained that deepening the channel could have a significant impact on the county’s economic development.
Many ships entered and exited the port two decades ago, he said, but after the paper mill and supporting chemical plants closed, there was no need to ship materials into and out of Gulf County. With lack of use, the channels that used to serve the port have become shallow, preventing new industries from moving to the area.
“I have shown at least three companies around that were interested in some property we had on the canals and the area in locating their businesses here,” he said. “And everything was good until we talked about channel depth.”
“Without the 32-feet channel depth, they can’t get a ship in here. And without ships coming and going, you don’t have commerce.”
Magidson said he expects the term sheet discussions to be completed within . Then comments will be given before a final agreement will be presented to the Triumph board.
After the award is approved, the Port Authority will have until July 2023 to secure the remainder of the money, according to their agreement with Triumph.
“It’s just, it’s a transformational change for the community if we can get it to take place,” Magidson said. “It will create jobs and revenue for the area, and it should help our county and surrounding counties.”