JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- JAXPORT got the green light to deepen the harbor to 47 feet. It's a move JAXPORT says will allow it to accommodate larger ships, allow it to bring more business and more jobs to Jacksonville.
But environmentalists worry about what that deepening process will do to the St. Johns River. Riverkeeper Lisa Rineman said, "The major concern is the increase in salinity. When you dig deeper you invite more salt water in."
Rineman says a saltier St. Johns could kill river vegetation, driving the wildlife that rely on it south. "Not only do you start to lose the fish, you start to lose the birds who live along the riverbank as well," she said.
UNF's Coastal Biology Director, Courtney Hackney, says that's a valid concern. He studied a similar project in North Carolina. "We looked at everything from whether tidal level would change. What would happen with more salt? Would there be more salt? Would that effect the fish and shrimp that's moving upstream?" he said.
He said the effects to the environment in North Carolina weren't as bad as everyone feared. He says the wildlife that live along the river are resilient. "They pop back every year."
Now, Hackney is offering his expertise to the folks who actually do the deepening, the Army Corps of Engineers. He, along with JAXPORT, the St. Johns Riverkeepers, and the City are working together to make sure benefits to the port don't come at the expense of the environment.
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown said, "I'm going to make sure that we work with different groups, the public sector, the private sector to protect our river."
The harbor deepening isn't a done deal yet. The Army Corps of Engineers is still studying whether its feasible. It held a public forum on the issue Tuesday night. The results of its study should be made public by May.