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Article by: David Bauerlein

Aided by a rising economic tide, the Jacksonville Port Authority posted record numbers for shipping automobiles and cargo containers during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The port authority’s terminals broke through the 1 million mark for cargo container units, posting a 7-percent annual increase in shipments of the metal boxes that contain a multitude of consumer goods.JaxPort notched a 9-percent gain in automobile shipments, finishing the year with 693,241 vehicles.

The growth in automobile shipments is squeezing the capacity at port authority terminals.

“We’re challenged with space, and we’re trying to work through that,” JaxPort CEO Eric Green said at the port authority’s Monday board meeting.

The Georgia Ports Authority, whose Brunswick port competes fiercely with Jacksonville for automobiles, has expanded its capacity to 800,000 vehicles per year, JaxPort Executive Vice President Roy Schleicher noted.

He said plans to provide vehicle storage at the Dames Point terminal west of the Dames Point bridge will boost JaxPort’s overall capacity to 900,000 vehicles per year.

“So we’re not going to let anybody one-up us,” Schleicher said.

On the cargo container side of the operation, some of JaxPort’s gain resulted from Crowley Maritime shifting its Jacksonville-based shipping from privately owned land over to JaxPort’s Talleyrand Terminal near downtown. Crowley is a leading shipper to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

Asian-based cargo grew to almost 400,000 container units, a 19-percent increase.

“It continues to be our strongest trade lane,” Chief Financial Officer Michael Poole said.

To accommodate the large ships used in Asian trade, JaxPort is pushing to deepen the St. Johns River for 11 miles up to the Blount Island Terminal just east of the Dames Point bridge.

The 3-mile first segment of that dredging is slated to start at the end of the year.

The port authority has been in talks with TraPac, the terminal operator based at the Dames Point terminal, about shifting its operations to Blount Island.

Green said TraPac “rolled out a potential plan” for Blount Island in a recent meeting with him and board member John Falconetti. TraPac also has been in talks with SSA Cooper, which already serves Asian shipping lines at Blount Island, about jointly using space at that terminal.

The Federal Maritime Commission agreed this month to let TraPac and SSA Cooper enter into discussions about “the possible formation of a new entity” or “possible cooperation within their existing company structures” at the port of Jacksonville, according to the commission.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Jason Harrah updated the board on the deepening of the harbor, which is broken into three segments for the 11 miles of river from the ocean to the Blount Island Terminal.

The 3-mile first segment is funded, and the 5-mile second section could go out for bid in June 2018. Harrah said by then, the Corps should know whether Congress is putting up any federal dollars for the second section.

He said the second phase of the deepening will not require blasting to break up the river bottom. The first phase also will not need blasting, meaning 8 miles of the deepening can be done without underwater blasting.

Harrah said the third phase covers a part of the river with much harder rock, so assessments continue about whether the dredging will require blasting.