Tag Archives: Mayport

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

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


Daylight Savings Time is really kicking my butt this year for some reason, and I’ll be up early in the morning.  So, because I think it’s a pretty good piece, here’s the post I submitted for “JaxDaily” this week.



What Now for Mayport?

Saturday, for the first time since the debate over the proposed Mayport Cruise Terminal began, I saw an article in the Shorelines section of the FT-U positing that blocking the terminal might not be the best thing for the tiny village.

clip_image002Of course, if you don’t live near the beach and don’t get the Shorelines section … you probably didn’t see it.

The reprieve is likely only temporary. There is not a great deal of demand for new cruise business right now, and JaxPort has bigger fish to fry with its core container business. With the economy lingering in the doldrums, I’m frankly surprised that the decision didn’t come sooner. But for now, the 8 expensive, valuable, waterfront acres will remain fenced off from the public, doing nothing.

But now that the Mayport Waterfront Association has won its reprieve … the lingering question is “what will they do with it”. Unless I’m missing something, JaxPort is unlikely to want to let go of the property for anything other than market value if at all, and certainly, time is on their side. From my vantage point, I don’t see any compelling reason for the JaxPort to let go of their investment for a waterfront park, maritime museum, or any of the other things that have been mentioned. For the foreseeable future, it’s chain link fence, barbed wire, and old concrete pads where buildings once stood.clip_image004

If the Waterfront Association wants to have any chance of winning any part of this fight in the long term, they need to not rest on their laurels for even a moment. I still see a cruise terminal in Mayport, but I’ve misread tea leaves before. But for the people living in the village who were so adamantly opposed to the cruise ships, if a year, or two, or more pass with no CONCRETE plans and funding lined up … they’ll be in a much weaker position when JaxPort decides to go back to the city council for the zoning it needs to build the terminal. If nothings been done … JaxPort will ask, and rightly so, “what have you been doing to improve the village”? If the answer is “waiting for someone to give us more money to do something”, then look for cruise ships to be tied up at Mayport.

I understand this is not like someone buying a house close to an airport and then complaining about the noise. The cruise terminal is not already there, but neither is much of anything else. The commercial fishing industry faces huge challenges from overfishing and farm-raised imports, and my never be what it was as an economic engine for the village. With the just-announced ban on taking red snapper set to go into effect this summer, making Mayport a charter fishing boat hub may face an uphill climb as well. I’m not trying to be a naysayer to everything that’s been mentioned, but wishing won’t make it so.

clip_image006Free advice being worth what you pay for it, here’s a thought. The folks who want Mayport to be more than just a cruise terminal need to start now. It’s not enough to just say you want to preserve the heritage of the village. I don’t think anyone can honestly say they believe change isn’t coming. I’m not one who thinks the cruise terminal would be a bad thing, but I also don’t live next door. I do spend time in Mayport, and would love to see the area thrive. Both sides have their points … and while it’s on hold for now … the debate is far from over.



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Filed under Cruise Terminal, Mayport, Thoughts

State of the State

Governor Crist gives his “State of the State” speech tomorrow night at 6:00 … and for the first time since I’ve lived in the state of Florida, I may not be able to watch.

Not to say I might not record it and watch it later, but at 6:00 tomorrow, I’ll be at a networking event, working the room, making the connections that will eventually lead to a new career, or at the very least help me when I find it.  The economy that should be the focus of the speech will be the reason I won’t be around to watch.

The state legislature faces daunting challenges this session.  On the news tonight were stories about potentially draconian cuts in school budgets due to the economy.  Governor Crist will probably announce plans to use federal stimulus money to plug some of the budget gaps.  I’d like to be able to sit across the table from him again to ask about the wisdom of using one-time dollars for recurring expenses.  I know we’re all hoping for a quick economic recovery, but with the Dow slipping well below 7,000 today for the first time in decades, maybe holding one’s breath isn’t such a great idea.

Meanwhile, there was this quote from House-Speaker-Designate Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) in the “Capital Update” blog in The Tallahassee Democrat:

“Some look at these complex problems and see a simple solution — more money. They argue that we simply need to raise taxes and spend our way out of our current problems. They seem to believe there’s a magical dollar figure — although no one has ever shared with me what it is — that if we could just spend the right amount our problems would fade away. I know the magic number isn’t $73 billion, because that’s what we spent during my second session, and I still heard every conceivable interest group claim they were underfunded.”

And so it begins.


Celebration 1 Along with the stories about shrinking school budgets was the story that Jaxport has shelved plans for a cruise terminal in Mayport for the time being.  The Jaxport board cited uncertain economic times as the principal reason they wouldn’t be seeking rezoning on the waterfront properties where the terminal would be built.  One of the Mayport residents I saw interviewed said “it’s over”, which is probably far from the case.  But for now, it’s on the back burner.  It’d be prudent now to watch the fate of the Mayport Ferry … which is now indefinitely out of service.  The return date on the signs have been covered over by duct tape.  Not a good omen.


Five minutes to post and not miss today.  I’ve really got to start writing earlier.



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Filed under Cruise Terminal, Legislature, Mayport, News

Just Who’s Being Political?

One of the topics of discussion at a meeting I attended today was the possibility of homeporting the George H.W. Bush … soon to be the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier …  at Naval Station Mayport.  Over the loud objections of the Virginia congressional delegation.

Now, Norfolk, Virginia is the primary east coast Naval shipyard, and where all of the Navy’s east coast carriers are currently based.  You don’t have to spend very long with Google Earth to see that it’s a 25 or 30 mile run to the ocean from Norfolk, whereas from Mayport, it’s less than a mile.  And with that much river between your docks and the ocean, well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it might not take much to make the Naval Station in Norfolk inaccessible, either in or out.  At least from this layman’s point of view, dispersing the carrier fleet between two east coast facilities just seems to make good sense.  You also don’t have to be much of an historian to know about Pearl Harbor, and the issues that came from having so many assets in one location.  While there’s no threat of hundreds of airplanes striking Norfolk, well we didn’t expect hijackers to fly domestic airliners into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, either.

But the Virginia congressional delegation is accusing Florida, and Jacksonville, of playing politics with the carrier.  By no less professional political animal than Senator John Warner.

The thing is, they’re concerned about losing something they’ve never really had.  Granted, the G.H.W. Bush is being laid up in Norfolk, but there’s not a crew for her.  It would seem to me, and I’ve been wrong before, but it would seem to me that those shipyard workers will have work after the G.H.W. Bush is finished and out to sea.

How is it not playing politics when the primary argument for keeping the new carrier at Norfolk is that “we’ll lose jobs”.  Hey guys … been there, done that.  When the Kennedy was decommissioned and towed away from Mayport, we lost a big economic driver for our community.  Nobody disputes that.  And yes, having the new carrier homeported here would certainly come with some economic benefits.

But that’s not this area’s primary argument.  If you take the emotion away, and look at this just a tad dispassionately, you can’t come to any conclusion other than dispersing assets makes sense from a national security point of view.  There’s an old saw about “putting all your eggs in one basket” for a reason.

Now, this city voted, in a fair referendum, to let you keep your Master Jet Base.  And frankly, if the Navy was asking the city for as much to bring the carrier here as it did to re-establish the Master Jet Base at Cecil Field, I don’t know how that vote would come out.  But the Navy already owns naval Station Mayport, so it’s something of an intellectual exercise, and nothing more.  But don’t insult us by saying WE’RE playing politics in this issue, without at least admitting that politics is involved in YOUR argument as well.

Or, in case you’re unfamiliar with another old analogy:

Pot … Kettle … Black …


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Filed under Economy, Navy, Politics, Thoughts

Another Blank Page

Sometimes I do my best writing when faced with a blank page.  Tonight may not be such a night.

It was another day of working the phones and e-mail.  There will be more of that tomorrow, and pretty much every day until I start getting some interviews.

I’m sure regular readers, if there are any, are starting to find this a bit tedious.  Hell, I’m finding it a bit tedious.  I need to find some muse to give me something to write about day after day.

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  Temperatures were in the high 70’s here at the beach, and it was a great day for a bike ride.  I did my normal 18 mile southern loop down to Corona Road, which normally takes me a little more than an hour.  It was my second day this week to make that ride.  Winds were out of the south, and that’s helpful on that loop.  I prefer to have the wind at my back on the return leg of a ride, and my legs were really feeling it on the last mile this afternoon.  Still, I got it done, and that always gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Tonight, though, more December-like weather is on the way, and I’ll have to turn to the elliptical strider for my workout.  I’m trying to get serious about getting some of this weight off.  I’m not happy at all that the stress of losing my job has caused me to let myself go.  I’ve got to start feeling better about myself, and one way to do that is simply to have some success.  I know how to do it.  It’s just a question of having the discipline to get it done.


It’s a slow news day in Jacksonville.  Watching the 11 o’clock news, I’ve seen stories about the weather, Jeb Bush NOT running for U.S. Senate, Florida playing in the National Championship game Thursday … the only story that is news to me was the one about a delay on the cruise terminal vote by LUZ, which is the City Council Land Use and Zoning committee.

Celebration 1 LG JAXPORT and Mayport have not been able to reach an agreement about the terminal, citing environmental concerns about the fuel the ships will burn at pierside and potential discharge.  Now, the discharge issue shouldn’t really be a concern, as the Coast Guard station is just west of the proposed cruise terminal site … and the Coasties take a dim view of inshore sewage and offal discharge.  Mayport wants a concession that the ships be connected only to shore power when they’re at the pier, which would be a very expensive proposition.  I’m not sure what the particulate concentration is from the “clean” fuel that JAXPORT says it will require ships to burn, but I DO know that I always wind up with plenty of soot and dirt on my boat NOW in it’s storage space at Jacksonville Marina.  It wouldn’t be ideal to have more to clean up before I get out on the water.

Still, I’m overall in favor of the cruise terminal at Mayport.  There will in all likelihood be a nuclear carrier in the neighborhood in a fewMayport Sign years, which may require some infrastructure improvements in the area anyway.  The county, state, and Atlantic Beach have done a nice job on Mayport Road (A1A) heading north to the A1A / Mayport Road split.  I drive up there pretty regularly, and I’m sure the terminal and parking garage construction would be an annoyance, and improving the road could prove problematic, as there seem to be a lot of areas that could be considered wetlands from the split to the ferry.  But on balance, I can’t help but believe that the overall economy of the area would improve with terminal.

I know Mike, Linda, and Paul stayed at one of the national chain motels in Atlantic Beach, and it was in pretty dismal condition.  Those places would do well to improve if people were staying a night or two before or after a cruise.  I really think it would be a boon to the Mayport region, and perhaps the entire north beaches area would see a boost.  It couldn’t hurt.


And finally … is it a sign of the Apocalypse?  Letterman almost made an Obama joke.  Not quite, but skirting the edges.


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Filed under Beach Living, Cruise, Life, Local Government, Mayport, Weather