Tag Archives: Mayport Ferry

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.

–scene–

Leave a comment

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.

–scene–

Leave a comment

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.”

–scene–

 

1 Comment

Filed under Beach Living, City Government, Economy, Mayport Ferry

Stimulus Projects At The Beach

Money to the north of us, money to the south of us, but Neptune Beach is left with a shrinking tax base, but still too much money to get anything from the federal stimulus. I wonder if we’re the only little town in the nation to not get a dime.

Mayport FerryTo the north, the Mayport Ferry is slated for $3 million for upgrades to the ramps that get the cars on and off the ferry. Ports spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said every dime will be spent on the ramps. It doesn’t seem like you could spend $3 million on ferry ramps, but I suppose it’s possible. It’s really a pity that some of that can’t go into operating, because it won’t matter how nice the ramps are to get on and off the boats if the boats aren’t running, but I know that’s not the way the stimulus money works. Operating a ferry is not a “shovel ready” project that puts people to work. Hiring contractors to build new ramps is a “shovel ready” project, so new ramps it’ll be.

Still, that’s not necessarily bad news. It does mean there’s a commitment to the ferry, and that’s been an open question for a while. I don’t think they’d pump that kind of money into the ramps if they planned to stop running the boat. But then, it might be the only thing they were allowed to spend the money on.

To the south, there’s $5 million to be spent on 9th street south from 1st Avenue South to Osceola Avenue. Curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and drainage. Not that 9th street doesn’t need it, it does. It’s a pretty major thoroughfare between Beach Boulevard and South Beach Avenue. It runs through an area of Jacksonville Beach known as “The Hill”, which is not the best part of town.  Drainage in the area is bad, and anything resembling a heavy rain floods the streets. It’ll be worthwhile to have work done on 9th street.

But here in Neptune Beach, we apparently didn’t have any “shovel ready” projects that qualify. There was an article recently in The Beaches Leader in which Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette said there was too much money in Neptune Beach for us to be in line for any stimulus, but goodness knows Florida Boulevard could use some drainage work, and to be widened with a turn lane, and maybe a couple of lights.  But apparently even with a 5 percent reduction in property values which will affect the tax base, we’re too wealthy.

It doesn’t seem that way at our house.

We’re here kind of in the hole of the donut. Most of the money would likely trickle down anyway. I don’t know that there are construction companies here in Neptune Beach that could get a contract to work on a road. But all those people have to eat somewhere, and we do have some nice restaurants, and they might need something from K-Mart or the drugstore. Still, the improvements would have been nice.

I don’t begrudge Jacksonville Beach or Mayport their stimulus projects. I drive on 9th street and I sometimes use the ferry, so I’ll get something out of it, as will most everybody at the beach. But I can understand Mayor Pruette’s frustration.

-0-

I’m out for Oshkosh on Saturday, 8 days steeped in airplanes. I’ll try to keep up something resembling the blog, but can’t make any promises. It’s going to be an incredibly busy week, but I’ll let you know all about it when I get back.

With pictures.

Sig

–scene–

Leave a comment

Filed under Beach Living, Federal Stimulus, Mayport, Neptune Beach, Thoughts