Mayport vs. JAXPORT, Round ??
The Mayport Waterfront Partnership has started to complain about the fencing around the property owned by the Jacksonville Port Authority which would have been the site of a new cruise terminal. “An eyesore” they say. “The fencing does not meet local codes,” and “People should have access to the river”.
It’s difficult to disagree with any of those statements. No one wants to look at a 7 foot high chain link fence with razor wire festooned across the top. I’m not an expert on local codes in Mayport, but I assume the Partnership has done its homework on that score. And I’m all about access to the river.
But there’s a little problem.
The Port Authority owns the land. As such, it falls under Port Security rules, and state law requires the fence.
It’s pretty likely such security laws supersede the local codes. There’s plenty of 7 foot chain link with razor wire around Naval Station Mayport, but that’s not right along the river. It’s also not been the focus of a years-long debate.
There’s also the perception that the Port Authority has abandoned the idea of a cruise terminal at Mayport. But when it announced that it was suspending the terminal it was just that: “suspending.” The Authority never intimated they were giving up on a cruise terminal in Mayport, they simply said the economic conditions were not right for the terminal at this time.
It’s extremely myopic to think that the port authority is going to spend a lot of money improving the property with a lot of river access and public spaces only to tear it all out when the economy improves and a cruise terminal makes sense. Not to mention the firestorm that would cause when folks who have become accustomed to using the riverfront access suddenly find they no longer have it.
Then, too, there’s the concept of an “attractive nuisance.” As the owner of the property, the Port Authority is liable for any injuries or worse that might occur, and the Port Authority has very deep pockets that reach into ours.
The buildings and docks that were on the property when it was acquired by JAXPORT were so dilapidated that they had to be torn down. Everything was unusable, and in some cases downright dangerous. To allow public access to the property in its current condition would be begging for a lawsuit, in today’s litigious society. The fence exists as much to protect the public from harm as it does to protect JAXPORT, and by extension taxpayers, from possibly frivolous lawsuits. And as stated above, there is no real compelling reason for JAXPORT to spend a big pile of cash on improvements it would just have to undo later. As a taxpayer, I don’t think that’s a very good use of very scarce dollars.
There is a recourse for the Mayport Waterfront Partnership: buy the land from the Port Authority. I know that sounds harsh, but it really is just about the only option that guarantees they will get what they want. The truth of the matter is that the plans for a cruise terminal are on hold, not abandoned. The economy will improve, and if Jacksonville wants to have a cruise industry, there will need to be a place to dock the ships. I’m sure JAXPORT would be willing to entertain alternatives, but I would hope they had done that due diligence before they purchased the land in Mayport.
Now, as I said the last time I wrote on this subject, I know the ships won’t be towering over my house. I understand the people who have lived in Mayport, in some cases for generations, don’t want some of what a cruise terminal would bring: traffic, possibly reduced air quality (though Port Authority CEO Rick Ferrin said those issues were being addressed) and concerns about possible brown or even black water discharge. They’re also concerned about the lack of river access, and the possibility of a large parking garage between their houses and the river. These are all valid concerns, and negotiations that will eventually have to be done with JAXPORT and the cruise industry. But it’s also possible that a cruise terminal could bring some much-needed economic prosperity to an area that is by all accounts blighted, and yes I’ve been there recently, and from my observation it could certainly use a shot in the arm.
In the meantime, it’s simply unrealistic to demand that the Port Authority remove the fence around the property, in violation of state law, and open its self up to an enormous economic liability. I agree, it’s not pretty, and it cuts off the access to the river. But as a taxpayer, I certainly don’t want to have to help pay to defend a lawsuit, or pay a possible settlement, brought by someone who trespassed on the property, was injured or worse, and then claimed in court “there should have been a fence.”