A $12.3 billion water bill cited as a rare point of cooperation between congressional Democrats and Republicans that was signed Tuesday by President Barack Obama includes millions of dollars to deepen the shipping channel of the St. Johns River and to fix Mile Point, a navigational hazard near the mouth of the river.
"Right now we should be putting a lot more Americans back to work rebuilding our infrastructure," Obama said as he signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. "There are a lot of guys with hardhats sitting at home."
The bill authorizes a $601 million project to deepen the a 21-mile stretch from the mouth of the river to the Blount Island Terminal to allow the larger ships from Asia that will pass through an expanded Panama Canal to dock in Jacksonville.
However, Congress only appropriated $312.8 million to the Jacksonville Harbor Project, with state and local sources expected to contribute the remaining $371.4 million.
The bill also authorizes a $37.2 million project to modify the crosscurrents at the confluence of the river and the Intracoastal Waterway that prevents large ships from passing in or out of the Jacksonville shipping channel a certain times of day. Congress agreed to fund $27.8 million of that project.
Congress must still pass bills allowing the federal government to spend the money for the projects. Dredging will likely begin in 2016.
"Today is a historic day for one of our nation's most valuable resources: our waterways," said JaxPort CEO Brian Taylor. "The inclusion of Jacksonville's two critical harbor improvement projects -- Mile Point and harbor deepening -- ensure JaxPort will remain competitive in the global economy and continue to create jobs and opportunity for Northeast Florida. We are thankful to all of the lawmakers who put in countless hours to make this bill a reality."
During a visit to the Jacksonville Port Authority last month, Gov. Rick Scott pledged to spend $1 billion on Florida's seaports if he is reelected, the amount committed to the dredging project. Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has also not committed to funding, although there has been a discussion of selling bonds based on expectation of higher tax revenues from expanded port traffic once the harbor is deeper.
The water bill singed Tuesday also authorizes deepening of harbors of Port Canaveral and Savannah and funds projects to improve wetlands quality and water management in the Everglades, Biscayne Bay and Broward County.