“We all need to get behind this project,” Commissioner Phil McCroan said. “We’ve gotta have it. For anybody to not see that, something is wrong.”
PORT ST. JOE — The Board of Gulf County Commissioners formally moved ahead Tuesday on constructing a dry dock facility at the Port of Port St. Joe.
The dry dock would be constructed by Eastern Shipbuilding, which would operate the facility under a lease arrangement with the county. The county would be the owner of the facility, and to ensure the Triumph Gulf Coast board understands the county’s priority, commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that establishes the dry dock as the county’s only project for consideration from first-year Triumph funding.
“We’re trying to drive jobs,” Commissioner Phil McCroan said. “We all need to get behind this project. We’ve gotta have it. For anybody to not see that, something is wrong.”
Assistant County Administrator Michael Hammond said the resolution was in part based on letters of support from the city, county, Port St. Joe Port Authority and Gulf District Schools. He said Tuesday’s resolution reiterated that for county commissioners, the dry dock is the only project up for funding, at least this year.
“It is our No. 1 and only project,” Hammond said.
The commission also approved the framework of a joint operating agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation that will allow the county to access a $6 million legislative appropriation earmarked for the dry dock project. Under a state statute facilitating the creation of a public-private partnership, such as this one between county and Eastern Shipbuilding, much information remains confidential and proprietary.
The dry dock would be 120 by 400 feet and constructed within the turning basin of the federally authorized shipping channel off the bulkhead on the former paper mill site. The legislative appropriation includes $1 million for dredging the area around the dry dock to a depth of 45 feet, according to required advertisement for the project.
Cost estimates have eclipsed $25 million, though the final price tag will be known after engineering and design.
Commissioners approved putting out a request for qualifications for engineering and design of the dry dock and will seek request for qualifications for an engineering firm to serve as inspector to the design work, essentially serving as the county’s engineer for the project. Hammond said the dollars for engineering and design — he estimated $700,000 — would be coming from the state appropriation.
In addition, county attorney Jeremy Novak said he would continue to work with Eastern representatives on a “comprehensive” agreement governing the construction and operation of the dry dock.
Responding to public questions, Novak said Eastern would be responsible for future maintenance of the dry dock. and Eastern officials have indicated use of the dry dock does not solely depend on the success and future of a $10 billion Coast Guard contract Eastern is working under.
The lease structure, Novak said, would be structured around job creation. And the dry dock facility, Hammond added, never was seen as a revenue-generator for the county.
“The hope is they will create enough jobs ... that it will be a job engine,” Hammond said.
Eastern’s lease payments would be based on jobs created, with more jobs meaning smaller lease payments, fewer jobs translating into higher lease payments.
“It is all tied to jobs and to a specific number of jobs,” Novak said.
The final agreement and specifics of the lease arrangement will be subject to public review and comment as the project moves ahead.
The county is seeking $15 million, the entirety of the first-year base payment due the county, from Triumph Gulf Coast, the board established to disburse some $1.2 billion in BP oil spill fine dollars in eight Northwest Florida counties.
“2018 is going to see a big jump-start to this county,” Commissioner Ward McDaniel said.