Category Archives: Beach Living

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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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

End Of The Road For The Mayport Ferry?

It was not a huge surprise when the Jacksonville Port Authority this week announced that it could no longer subsidize the Mayport Ferry. Short of an extraordinary rescue effort, the shortest distance between two points connecting Florida A1A may be severed.

Ferry DockingJaxport took over the ferry operations in 2007 as part of the negotiations to acquire several parcels of land where it intended to build a cruise ship terminal in Mayport village. With the cruise business now low on the Port Authority’s priority list, it looks like the ferry is as well.

In operation since 1948, the ferry has seen declining ridership in recent years. The number of cars taking the shortcut across the river fell to under 300,000 last year, in part because of a substantial fare increase from $3.00 to $5.00 each way in 2009. But there are a variety of reasons for the decline. Completion of the Wonderwood bridge and expressway have reduced the time it takes to drive around to Heckscher Drive. But it’s still a long way over to re-join A1A to get up to Big and Little Talbot Islands from I295. And when the ferry goes out of service for maintenance, which any vessel seeing as much work as the Mayport ferry does needs regularly, there is no backup. The backup ferry (pictured below)  was retired a few years back, and so people are forced to make the drive when the MV Blackbeard is in dry dock. Once they get out of the habit of taking the ferry, many never return. A replacement for the backup boat would cost as much as $13 million by most estimations. So when the Blackbeard needs maintenance, there will continue to be interruptions in service.

Former Backup FerrySo the Port Authority says it can no longer afford to continue to prop up the ferry, and do the maintenance on the boat or the dock facilities. They say they will return ownership of the ferry to the city, which their contract to operate the service allows them to do. But Mayor Alvin Brown almost immediately said it would be very difficult for the city to operate the boat. Local activist who led the charge to save the ferry the last time it was threatened say that it will be a long and difficult lobbying effort to pull that off again. The state is facing a $2 billion deficit in its upcoming legislative session, and money for the ferry would be nothing but an earmark at the federal level. We all know there is no room for (most) earmarks in the federal budget.

By most accounts, losing the ferry would be a death knell for the village of Mayport, and a couple restaurants and other small businesses on the west side of the river would certainly struggle. With no drive-through traffic taking the ferry, businesses like Singleton’s Sea Food could lose a substantial percentage of their patrons. Safe Harbor seafood might make it for a while, but their retail business might certainly fall off with no drive-through traffic using the ferry. With no reason for people to go to Mayport, the village might well wither and die.

If it goes, I’ll certainly miss the ferry. A trip to Big or Little Talbot island, the Timucuan Preserve, Kingsley Plantation, Fort Clinch, or Amelia Island won’t be the same without the short ride across the river. Adding 20 miles to get back  to A1A for one of the most scenic drives in the state, particularly in a convertible, will mean we’ll go less often.

Ferry WheelhouseI hope the ferry will be able to make it. It’s one of the things that add character to our island, and as someone who has spent a lot of time on the water, I’m consistently impressed with the seamanship demonstrated by the ferry captains as they fight wind, tides, and current in a boat that is far from the most maneuverable on the river to slide it into its slip time after time. It’s never the same twice, and it was the rare ferry ride that ended in anything but a gentle nudge against the dock. And it was always a pleasure when BJ was directing traffic onto or off of the boat.

Councilman Bill Gulliford is holding a town hall meeting January 19th to discuss the ferry issue at Fletcher High School in Jacksonville Beach. I’d be there but I’ve already paid for a ticket to the Chamber of Commerce annual meeting that same evening.

It will be a sad day if the Mayport ferry is forced to stop its trips back and forth across the river. Add my voice to those who support maintaining the ferry, and hope it can be preserved. I’m not sure where the money comes from. City governments from Jacksonville to the beach communities are strapped for cash, and the ferry is a low priority. Like so many things in life, the Mayport ferry may be one of those things that “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

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The Shot Heard ‘Round The Basketball World

I was a student at Indiana University during its roundball glory days. Coach Robert Montgomery Knight roamed the sidelines in a plaid jacket, and it seemed there was never a college basketball discussion that didn’t include a mention of the Hoosiers. Granted, I’ve never quite forgiven Coach Knight for winning a national title the year before I enrolled and the year after I graduated … but there was an NIT title in that span of 1976-1980 that at least gave me a taste of that basketball glory. I’m still among those fans who think Bob Knight pretty much hung the moon … 10 feet above the playing surface.

IU

But when I moved away from Indiana, it became increasingly difficult to follow the Hoosiers. Odd that some places didn’t understand the value of Hoosier basketball, but there you go. Living now in Florida, where the Gators have shown some basketball prowess but football is still king, it’s difficult sometimes to find even a box score in the Florida Times-Union, let alone be able to catch a game on television. The Hoosiers’ troubles over the past few years had relegated them to the back of the sports section, and only merited a mention when they played a nationally-ranked team.

So while watching the last of the Ohio State game on ESPN Saturday, and the up-next was undefeated Indiana against undefeated and #1-ranked Kentucky … well I knew what the rest of MY afternoon would be like. Christmas lights all hung, I settled onto the couch for what would arguably be one of the great games in college basketball history.

If you follow college basketball, you already know that the final score was 73-72 Indiana on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Christian Watford. By that time, Andie was home from work and I was grilling steaks for dinner, a benefit of living in Florida in December. She thought I was just pacing, and in a way, I was. So many times through the Kelvin Sampson era IU basketball had become difficult to watch, and the program had served up a lot of disappointment over the years since Coach Knight was let go. I fiercely wanted the Hoosiers to win, but knew that Kentucky was ranked #1 for a reason. Down two with 5.6 seconds to play and the ball, it was certainly not a foregone conclusion.

But Indiana fans know that down 2 and 5.6 seconds to play is an opportunity. And Watford took advantage.

WBIWAs a student at IU, I think I had the opportunity to be in Assembly Hall only once. My part-time job at the local radio station in Bedford, where I grew up, was to insert the local commercials into Indiana basketball games. So my path to Hoosier fandom came from being on campus during the week, and listening to Don Fisher call play-by-play … as he still does … on the Indiana University Basketball Network. The game I attended was Indiana vs Notre Dame. The Irish were heavily favored … and they never led in the game. That’s the kind of Indiana Basketball I was accustomed to. I do recall missing hearing Don call the game for me … but that’s another post.

So Saturday’s victory was special. The students pouring onto the court after the fantastic finish, which nearly left Dickey V speechless, was the result of years of pent-up frustration triggered by a three-point nothing-but-net shot with 0.0 showing on the clock. I felt like if I could have jumped through the TV screen to join them, I’d have been out there in that sea of red.

In the big scheme of things, a mid-season basketball win seems like a small thing. But for Hoosier fans who have waited for this moment, it was special. And honestly, we all knew it was just a matter of time.

After all, as the players and coaches said after the game … “It’s Indiana.”

Sig

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