By Mike Phillips
The cement exodus from the Port of Fernandina has slowed but is expected to pick up speed in a few days. The port has a buyer for the remaining two-ton cement powder bags. The outbound shipments are about halfway through the process.
Meanwhile, an updated version of the port’s five-year plan is circulating online, incorporating red-line edits done at the last port meeting. This week’s meeting has been canceled, and the port commissioners are expected to vote on the updated plan at an April meeting.
One issue in previous versions of the plan has been settled, and two are up in the air and might not be settled soon as the commissioners and the new port operator work back and forth:
Settled: The idea of handling fertilizer at the port is off the table and will remain off the table as long as the commissioners oppose it – which they clearly do.
Up in the air issue #1: No more shipments of cement powder have been ordered. Cement powder is an irritant to the upper respiratory system if exposure is frequent. It is on the lower part of toxic substance lists. But the port’s proximity to homes, schools, churches, and downtown shopping and dining crowds is an issue. A solution – pneumatic delivery from ships to sealed silos on land – is commonly used, but the equipment is expensive.
Up in the air issue #2 – The previous port operator obtained a $1 million U.S. Transportation Department grant to move the port into the barge business. The federal agency is promoting what it calls the Ocean Highway of coastal barge shipments, which it hopes might take some traffic pressure off the I-95 corridor. But the tugboat purchased with the grant four years ago has not been used for a single barge shipment. Federal grant officials have been asking questions, and the matter has been referred to the department’s attorneys. Discussions are ongoing, and nobody is talking.
A barge traffic venture remains in the five-year plan, but the idea remains just that – an idea.