It has been the in the talks for years on Gulf County and Port St. Joe to begin operations to open up a full service port in the little historic town along the coast. A working agreement has been finalized and presented to county commissioners. Could we finally see this become a reality? Here’s the full article below, written by Tim Croft of the Port St. Joe Star newspaper (full link to article below):
The Board of County Commissioners and Port St. Joe Port Authority finalized a working agreement last week and on Tuesday state, regional and economic officials formally hailed the establishment of a Gulf to Gadsden Freight Logistics Zone (FLZ).
Both documents focus, entirely or in significant measure, the development of an operational Port of Port St. Joe as a key driver for an economic renaissance in the region.
The agreement between county and Port Authority was critical as local officials contemplate the projects, and the funding, that will be necessary to unlock the port’s potential.
The agreement, spanning two years but likely to be extended to a third year, largely scans a similar agreement between the county and the St. Joe Company and an earlier collaboration between the Port Authority and St. Joe.
Acknowledging the assets within the port planning area and the desire to grow and diversify the economy while attracting high paying jobs.
“I think it’s a great start to get things moving to get jobs into the county,” said Guerry Magidson, the chairman of the Port Authority board.
Magidson said he and Warren Yeager, the executive director of the county’s Economic Development Coalition, would be sitting down to discuss joint applications for Triumph Gulf Coast funds earmarked to the county for economic development projects.
One of the primary motivations of the county/port agreement is the adage concerning strength in numbers.
The Port Authority expects to have final design plans for spoil infrastructure, as well as final projections on dredging and spoil disposal costs at its September meeting.
The Gulf to Gadsden Freight Logistics Zone evolved from a mapping of assets along the Apalachicola Northern (Genesee Wyoming) rail line that links the Port of Port St. Joe to point north to Gadsden County.
The goal, to create an intermodal system moving goods within the four-county region which also includes Liberty and Franklin counties.
The plan highlights significant infrastructure, including the Port of Port St. Joe, the Apalachicola Regional Airport, the I-10 interchange in Gadsden County and rail connections and interstate access in Liberty County.
The plan notes the historical significance of the port as a “freight generator” and recent progress in opening the port, including a Port Authority tenant and the existing Eastern Shipbuilding lease on the paper mill site bulkhead owned by the St. Joe Company.
The study notes the strategic rail lines, roadways and, in the case of Gulf to Gadsden, the Intracoastal Waterway and the access to farflung markets that waterway provides.
Burrowing deeper, the plan also highlights potential sites for an Intermodal Logistics Centers (ILC), or hubs for regional activity.
One is in Gulf County, along State 71 north off Chemical Drive, also known as the county’s “lay-down yard.”
That site offers access to rail and roadways, State 71 connecting to I-10 and, ultimately, the Gulf Coast Parkway once constructed.
“When we see leaders at the city, county and state levels join forces with the private sector, the greatness that can be accomplished becomes evident,” said State Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello). “What this partnership and naming of this new zone mans to this area is immeasurably and I look forward to seeing the positive impacts for years to come.”
The creation of the freight zone is crucial in accessing state funding for projects that would boost the zone or hub and in turn economic development.
The plan also puts a spotlight on the region’s proximity to the expanded Panama Canal, closer than any other Florida seaport, as well as the existing rail and water avenues from the region to broader markets.
Along similar lines, the freight zone would also be adjacent to the existing Foreign Trade Zone in Panama City as well as a proposed Foreign Trade Zone in Tallahassee.
“The four counties in the FLZ have tremendous potential for economic development and job growth,” said Jorge Gonzalez, CEO of The St. Joe Company. “With the proper infrastructure in place, the Port of Port St. Joe can leverage the benefit of proximity to rail, air and interstate transportation assets.
“We are committed to working with the counties to improve transportation connectivity and propelling growth throughout the FLZ.”