Great Stories

One of the great things that has come from working on the project to preserve the St. Johns River Ferry is the stories we’ve heard from people for whom the ferry has been a very important part of their lives. There’s been some discussion of a “Story Corps” type of booth to get more of these in an archive, but for now, it’s kind of catch-as-catch can.

At the FlashCog Saturday, I was introduced to Uma Orr, who back in 1950 was one of the first people to ride the Ferry … a ride that took place on a cold December night at midnight.

Here’s Uma’s story …

The response to the efforts of the task force has been very positive. We’re looking forward to another 50 years of this unique river crossing.

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St Johns River Ferry Task Force

Update On The St. Johns River Ferry Service Task Force

Latest on the efforts of the task force working to preserve the St. Johns River Ferry. The Port Authority is meeting February 27th, and we hope to be able to convince them that we need more time to work on this issue.

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Filed under A1A, Beach Living, Jacksonville Beach, Local Issues, Neptune Beach, St. Johns River

Preserve The St. Johns River Ferry

It’s amazing, sometimes, how you can find yourself in the center of something that can really make a difference in your community. Such is the case with the task force to save, and then preserve, the St. Johns River Ferry Service.

Ferry Task Force Beaches WatchThe ferry, often referred to as the Mayport ferry, is in danger of being permanently docked. And as 13th district councilman Bill Guliford said at Wednesday night’s Beaches Watch meeting, if the service ends, it will be very difficult to resurrect it. So, led by former council president Elaine Brown, long a champion of beach community issues and beaches businesses, we are embarked on a mission to see that it is not allowed to come to that end.

Jacksonville Port Authority spokesperson Nancy Rubin says that the ferry carries an annual operating deficit of some $600,000 to $700,000, and is in immediate need of about $4 million in repairs and upgrades to the berths at either end of the short trip across the river. JPA executive director Paul Anderson has said that the continued operations of the ferry is not consistent with the port’s business model, and is not sustainable in its present form. At a meeting on February 27th, he will ask the board for guidance as to how to proceed, but he has been very clear that he hopes to return the ferry, and the associated land, to the city. The city has been reluctant at best to agree to consider re-assuming responsibility for the service. The state, which most believe should be the entity operating the ferry, washed its hands of the service several years ago. Basically, it’s like they determined that they were no longer going to pay to maintain a bridge over a waterway that connects a state highway … which the ferry does.

Ferry DockingAll of that to say that, I’ve been asked by Elaine to lead the media and PR efforts for the task force. We will have a website, Facebook presence, and other social media components to the effort. If you ride the ferry, occasionally or regularly, you can expect to see very shortly volunteers at both landings asking you to take a brief survey and sign a petition. I’ll be posting about the issue here, and producing some video pieces to illustrate the issue.

If you care about the ferry, and there are a multitude of reasons for you to do so, from its historic significance to the economic impact is has on Mayport, the beaches communities, and many other businesses that line A1A between St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach, consider signing a petition, making a donation, contacting the Mayor’s office and your representative of the City Council to make your opinion known. Do keep in mind that all e-mails sent to the Mayor and City Council are public records. If … I probably should say when … we go to the city for funding for the ferry, it will require the votes of 10 council members to get it back in the budget.

But most importantly, tell your friends. I can’t imagine the First Coast without the ferry. Let’s see that it doesn’t happen. (Pictured L-R Elaine Brown, Task Force Chair; Val Bostwick, President, Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry; Nancy Rubin, Jacksonville Port Authority spokesperson; Sam Floyd, Mayport Waterfront Partnership Chairman; Councilman Bill Guliford presenting at Beaches Watch)

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Filed under Atlantic Beach, Beach Living, City Budget, City Council, Florida Budget, Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville City Council, Mayport, Mayport Ferry, Neptune Beach

New Toys

But this is serious, too. I like to stay in touch with beaches issues, which brought me to this.

There’s not a lot you can do in a minute, but rather than always writing, I thought “why not leverage YouTube to talk about some of the issues here at the beach?” Like any reel, the first one isn’t always what you might want it to be. but I thought I’d go ahead and put it up and see if anyone enjoys it.

If you have an idea for a Beaches Minute, please let me know. I’ll try to make this a regular feature. Media is changing. Let’s change with it.

Beaches Minute: Mayport Ferry

I hope I’ll hear from you, and we’ll see you around the beach.

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Filed under Beach Living, Mayport, Mayport Ferry, Video

Mayport Ferry Update

Ferry DockingWe heard from Councilman Bill Gulliford Monday night at our First Coast Republican Club meeting on the status of the Mayport ferry. While nothing’s been resolved just yet, Councilman Gulliford said there is a great deal of activity going on in an effort to keep the A1A connection … connected.

The bad news is that the ferry needs some $4 to $4.5 million in repairs. That doesn’t go at all to operating costs. Councilman Gulliford seems to think that there may be some untapped grant money out there that can go towards getting the boat back up to par.

We heard about the responsibility of the state to maintain a contiguous A1A. The short ferry ride connects a state highway, which would have to be re-routed around to the Dames Point bridge. And it’s pretty well understood that any Mayport revival will be nearly impossible without the traffic the ferry brings.

A1A SignBut the ferry is also considered historic by some. It was mentioned that it might be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only auto ferry between Miami and Ocracoke Island in north Carolina. It is a unique resource which everyone loves, but no one apparently wants to pay for.

A question was asked how high the fare would have to be to make the ferry self-sustaining. Mr. Gulliford said it would have to double to $10 each way and maintain its current ridership … which if the fare were doubled is pretty unlikely. How much would ridership increase if the fare were rolled back to $2.50? Maybe not enough, but some.

From his position on the council, Gulliford is advocating an umbrella organization that would take responsibility for running the ferry. The citizens of the beach, he said, poke their heads up to save it every time it’s threatened, and once a “band-aid” is applied, go back to napping on the issue. That, he says, is part of the problem. There seems to be a feeling that the band-aid will somehow not need to be changed at some point, and we’re surprised when it does.

There is a lot of activity. Former Council President Elaine Brown is chairing a task force to save the ferry, which will have an organizational meeting Monday night at the Mayport community center at the launching ramp in the village. Mr. Gulliford said he was going to bend the Mayor’s ear at a breakfast Tuesday morning.

Floirda SealIn Tallahassee, representative Janet Adkins, who lives in Fernandina Beach, held a meeting to discuss the issue. The Florida Times-Union reports that Adkins advocates a public-private partnership to operate the ferry, but it should be paid for by stakeholders. Those would include several city and county governments, as well as the state.

“As you are getting your budgets together, as if you would be willing to fund a little piece,” she said, according to the paper. The president of the Friends of the St. Johns River took a different, and somewhat more pessimistic tack. The loss of the ferry would “(leave) the businesses along these routes to a slow economic death,” he said.

But  everyone is crying poverty. From FDOT, which arguably should maintain the boat because it connects a state highway, to the city of Jacksonville to the port, no one says they have any money for the ferry. The state, through JTA, seems to have no trouble subsidizing the Skyway, which has never realized anything close to its ridership potential. But to move 100,000 cars across the river every year, not a dime.

The good news is, the community is not going to let the ferry go down with out fight. It’s worth saving. But councilman Gulliford is correct. We should do a better job this time so that we don’t wind up a few years down the road having to go through the entire exercise again.

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Filed under A1A, Beach Living, Local Government, Local Issues, Mayport, Mayport Ferry, State Budget

South Carolina Shocker

I was surprised to wake up this morning to see that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had won the South Carolina primary. And won it convincingly.

Newt Gingrich by Gage SkidmoreThe final tally showed Gingrich winning the primary by 12 points over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and it puts what the Romney camp had hoped would be a quick march to the nomination into serious question. Romney has the backing of much of the Republican power structure. He’s already spending millions for advertising in Florida, which votes a week from Tuesday.

I’ve been watching Gingrich since he ascended to the Speakership in 1994. I was working for C-SPAN at the time, and Gingrich was famous for his “Special Orders” speeches, conducted in the House after the close of official business. The speeches, which could last as much as an hour, were delivered to a mostly-empty house chamber, but recorded and aired by the house television system and read into the Congressional record. It was one of the tactics that brought the speaker national recognition.

Now Gingrich, who many had discounted as unelectable, won by a substantial margin, and turned the nomination process into a horserace. He went on the offensive with the news media a debate the day ABC news aired an interview with his second ex-wife in which she asserted he had asked for an “open Mitt Romney by Gage Skidmoremarriage,” which under many circumstances could have spelled the end to his campaign. He blasted CNN for opening the debate with a question about his personal life, and said it was “despicable” for them to do so. By doing that, it’s possible he raised his standing with many of South Carolina’s conservative voters who have a pretty low opinion of the national news media. It’s certain that his debate performance  on that issue was a factor, and maybe a major factor, in his win Saturday. It can’t, however, be discounted that voters do not register by political party in South Carolina. Democrats and independents are allowed to vote in the Republican primary. It leads one to wonder how many Democrats may have turned out to cast a vote for Gingrich because they saw him as the weaker candidate, more easily defeated by Barack Obama in the fall. But President Obama would underestimate former Speaker Gingrich at his own peril.

Now, the campaign comes to Florida, where only Republicans can vote in the primary. There is a debate here in Jacksonville at UNF January 26th, and I’m expecting that my phone will start ringing incessantly with robo-calls not later than Monday. But unlike South Carolina, Florida is not a traditional “southern” state. There is an extensive diversity of thought here. The Panhandle and northeast Florida are more conservative, like the “traditional” south, which may give Gingrich and advantage. But the central and southern areas, largely from the I-4 corridor to south Florida will be more moderate, and potentially more favorable to Romney. It’s possible the Florida can make the decision, but it’s just as likely that the nominating campaign will go deep into the spring. It does appear now that the field has been winnowed to two, though former Senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Ron Paul will probably hang on as long as money continues to come in. We will see in a week if the Florida balloting swings the momentum back to Romney, or gives Gingrich an additional boost. Let the robo-calls begin. (Photos from Wikipedia by Gage Skidmore)

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Filed under Elections, Politics, Primarys, Republican Party

That’s A Plane On The Beach

I got a call from a friend today that a plane had landed on Atlantic Beach. I almost didn’t go down there, but then how often do you get to see an airplane on the beach.

iPhone video of a plane which landed on Atlantic Beach

The pilot reportedly took off from Jacksonville Executive Airport at Craig Field, and had a fuel issue. My friend had been there earlier, and had said that the pilot apparently landed on the hard packed sand at low tide. Local officials managed to pull the plane up the beach to a spot above the high tide line.

The plane looked undamaged. No obvious signs of fluid leaks, and apparently the landing gear worked. FAA records indicate it’s a 1970 Mooney M20F. The only other soul on board at the time of the incident was the pilot’s dog. Both were reportedly just fine.

I’m also very impressed with the video quality from the iPhone. It’s the first little b-roll clip I’ve shot with the phone, and while it’s not full HD by any estimation, it’s not bad for video shot on a phone.

Mooney On The BeachNo, it’s not every day you get to see a plane on the beach. It happened to Andie’s dad once, back in his flying days. The NTSB finally determined that the A & P who had done the annual on his airplane had not put the oil system back together properly, and the engine threw all it’s oil. Fine during preflight, but during the flight, suddenly the prop has stopped. He landed safely on St. Augustine beach, and as far as I know has not flown as pilot in command since. The family story is that it was his third unscheduled arrival, and he figured he’d quit before his luck ran out.

Walking back to the car, a gentleman walking towards the plane pointed and said “What’s that?” I couldn’t resist. “It’s an airplane,” I replied. Fortunately, he had a sense of humor. “I see that,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be there.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. He asked what I knew, and I told him. It’s just what I’d read online before heading down to the beach. The NTSB usually has a preliminary report out in 10 business days following an incident such as this. It’ll be an interesting read, I’m sure.

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Filed under Airplanes, Atlantic Beach, Aviation