By Wes Wolfe
July 15, 2022
Chris Ragucci is on his way out at the Port of Fernandina, opening the possibility of a new era of transparency and cooperation between the port operator and the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA).
Ragucci’s selling Worldwide Terminals to a joint effort of Utah and New York firms called Transportation Infrastructure Partners (TIP). TIP’s split 50-50 between Savage Services in Salt Lake City and Ridgewood Infrastructure in New York City, with Savage being the operating partner.
OHPA Commissioners weren’t even aware of the sale until this week, which tracks with Ragucci’s act first and tell OHPA later actions seen in other deals, like the one that brought river cruise ships to the Port.
For his part, Ragucci was all smiles at the announcement.
“I think all you agree that no one has more blood, sweat and tears in the success of this Port than myself,” Ragucci said at the latest OHPA meeting.
He noted they’ve more than doubled employment at the Port during that time, from around 30 to around 70 workers.“From the bottom of my heart, I can tell you this is a great day for this Port,” Ragucci said.The reach and resources brought by the purchasing firms to the Port are what’s needed to take it to build to the next level, he said.
Worldwide Terminals wholly owns Nassau Terminals, which runs the Port.
The TIP partnership also runs Carolina Marine Terminal in Wilmington, North Carolina, which was a factor in the deal.
“The one thing that really drove me to seek interest in Fernandina is customer sharing,” Savage Operations Director Butch Gilbert said. “We have customers in North Carolina that would like to expand, and we’ve already spoken to customers in Fernandina who would like to expand north, so it’s a great opportunity to share customers.”
Commissioner Miriam Hill specifically questioned Savage representatives on their experience with public port operations, considering the Fernandina Port is publicly owned but privately run and there are obligations to the public, among them, being transparent and cooperative with OHPA as an oversight organization.
“It’s only because Florida’s so just unique in terms of open records and transparency, and it’s very onerous to comply, and there are … pain points,” Hill said. “We have contractors that have a lot of experience in that space, and they kind of know — they expect it.”
Some folks from out-of-state, she said, are so inexperienced it’s like starting from scratch. However, Jared Larrabee, Savage’s Senior Vice President of Strategy and Engagement, said they’re experienced with those sort of issues from their work on the West Coast.
“It’s definitely an area we want to make sure we’re in compliance with…,” Larrabee said.
In a way, Commissioners weren’t surprised by the sale, Hill said, because there were discussions in the past.
“It’s great to meet you all, and I want to get off on a positive foot, but I also think part of that is … honesty and communication, and in the past, we haven’t had that,” Hill said. “There are some existing disputes with the operator — litigation — which I’m sure you’re aware of as part of your due diligence.”