Riverkeeper releases report, claims ‘deep dredge is economically infeasible’

Within two weeks of unanimous approval by the JAXPORT Board of Directors to begin the Jacksonville Harbor Deepening Project, the St. Johns Riverkeeper released a new report by a leading international port and shipping expert who “finds the proposed dredging of the St. Johns River to be ‘economically infeasible.’”

According to the report, Dr. Asaf Ashar, an independent consultant and research professor (emeritus) with the National Ports & Waterways Initiative at the University of New Orleans, analyzed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) economic feasibility study.

In the meantime, on June 26, the JAXPORT board allocated the first phase of port funding for construction to USACE, with an early 2018 project start date. The $484 million, 11-mile project is primarily funded by the state, with $17.5 million in federal funds received recently. The JAXPORT board includes James Citrano, board chair; Ed Fleming, John Falconetti, John Baker, Dr. John Newman, Joe York and Jamie Shelton.

In his report, Ashar identifies numerous flaws in the USACE’s methodology that he says resulted in a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) that is unrealistic and overstated. Ahsar estimated benefits for the dredging project that are substantially less than those calculated by the USACE.

While the USACE study is primarily based on data from 2010, Ashar utilized recent 2017 data to provide a more accurate assessment of both the current situation and, especially, future changes of Jacksonville’s shipping services and their impact on the economic feasibility of the project.   

Ashar defined four scenarios that address the flaws in the USACE study and calculated a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) for each. A BCR is calculated by dividing the total economic benefits by the total economic costs. Ashar’s BCR calculations range from 0.14 to 1.31 for a 13-mile channel. The USACE calculated a BCR of 2.66.

As a result, Ashar concluded that the “the BCR of JAXPORT’s channel-improvement project is likely less than 1.” Projects with a BCR smaller than 1.0 are considered economically infeasible. According to the USACE, “if the benefit cost ratio is less than 1.0, the total costs are greater than total benefits, which is not a good economic investment.”

The BCR calculations for an 11-mile channel range from 0.19 to 1.76. “As seen in the scenarios considered by me as the most likely, Multiport and Feedering, the BCR is still below 1, indicating that the 11-mile Project is still economically infeasible,” said Ahsar. 

The USACE has indicated no plans to update its studies for a project to deepen 11 miles of the St. Johns River instead of 13 miles, according to the Riverkeeper’s release.

“This new report provides further evidence that the economic projections for the Deep Dredge have been grossly overstated,” said Jimmy Orth, St. Johns Riverkeeper executive director. “It also demonstrates the urgent need for a transparent community dialogue to fully vet the project before dredging begins. We can’t afford to potentially spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars, cause significant harm to our river, and then find out later that the project wasn’t beneficial or even necessary.”

JAXPORT did not have an official response to the Riverkeeper’s consultant’s analysis, but instead supplied links to documents in reference to its position on harbor deepening.

“There are many years’ worth of expert economic research results and peer reviewed analysis of deepening project available,” said Nancy Rubin, JAXPORT spokesperson. “You can find many references to our position on deepening at Jaxport.com both on the harbor deepening page and in recent news releases posted within our newsroom.”

Ahsar’s complete report can be found at www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/blog/expert-finds-dredging-economically-infeasible/

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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