The third phase of the project to deepen the St. Johns River harbor into Jacksonville is now complete ahead of schedule, the Jacksonville Port Authority said Wednesday.
Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District deepened 5.3 miles of the river from mile 14.7 to mile 20, from a depth of 38 feet to 40 feet, bringing the entire length of the harbor to a uniform depth of 40 feet.
The Jacksonville District is currently assessing the possibility of further deepening of the harbor to 48 feet, but must neutralize the conflicting currents that hamper navigation where the river intersects with the Intracoastal Waterway.
Jaxport said completion of the third phase of the project will enable it to handle the draft of fully-loaded cargo vessels that currently use Jacksonville's port, and to meet the needs of new, even larger cargo ships.
The nearly $50 million project, funded primarily by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also expanded the harbor’s Chaseville widener from 100 feet to 200 feet for the benefit and safety of harbor pilots and anyone who travels through the harbor.
Before further harbor deepening can be done, the Jacksonville District must tackle a navigation project called Milepoint, three or four miles in from the Atlantic entrance where the river intersects with the Intracoastal Waterway, which creates a current that can spin a ship around in the channel.
As a result, pilots have restricted Panamax vessels to passing Milepoint during two four-and-a-half-hour windows every day.
Jaxport is working with the Jacksonville District to design and build a $60 million jetty on the south bank of the river by 2013 to “train” the outgoing tide coming up from the south so it intersects and neutralizes the tide coming down from the north in the middle of the river channel.
-- Contact Peter T. Leach at email@example.com.