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Mayport vs. JAXPORT, Round ??

Tom PattonThe 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.”

5 Responses »

  1. The fence is bad enough, but the demolition is not complete with concrete slabs all over and the site is ugly, There is still demolition debris still there as well as trash, If that site belonged to some one else they would be required to install erosion control devices as well as temporary Grass. We should also remember that they have taken business off the tax rolls. Oh Well, the City must not need the money. Why can't government agencies be held to the same standards they hold the rest of us to?

  2. It would not be very difficult for Tom to confirm--it might take 5 minutes--that the JaxPort fence is in violation of city code. Sad that Tom just runs material from JaxPort news releases without doing any homework. The issue is that the fence is illegal, not that the fence is legal and required by law but offensive. Not only is the fence is offensive to the Mayport folks, but it is illegal. The big issue here which affects everyone in Jacksonville is the principles surrounding comprehensive plans. I believe that the benefit of the doubt should ALWAYS go to the local folks when there is a fight and local folks desire to keep the plan as it is. Tom does not believe this. But what if somebody brings some offensive land use to Tom's community? Tom's community needs the protection of a comprehensive plan where the benefit of the doubt will go to Tom should he and his friend argue for keeping things as is.--Andy Johnson

  3. Andy --"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." -- It might take you five minutes to find out if that's true. It's obvious you live in the area in question ~ is there a reason why Mayport Village Civic Association didn't have comprehensive plans for the dilapidated waterfront property before JAXPORT bought it?

    • The land owned by JAXPORT in Mayport Village does not fall under Port Security or Homeland Security regulations, because Mayport Village is a "working Waterfront" governed by State and Local Ordinaces and Laws. The zoning on the properties in question are NOT zoned "Water Related or Water Dependent" as a Seaport, which are governed by federal law, ergo, JAXPORT properties MUST comply to local law. There is no international cargo related activity, (or any Port related activities) therefor, ALL local laws apply. The Communications Director would have everyone believe that properties owned by JAXPORT in Mayport Village are Seaport related. That is a blatant LIE!