St. Augustine Port Waterway & Beach District Chairman Barry Benjamin reported to Historic City News that the safety of boaters and swimmers in St. Johns County has been significantly improved by the acquisition of two state-of-the-art rescue boats.
The Port Waterway & Beach District, which oversees issues regarding the port, voted unanimously to provide $24,272 to St. Johns County Fire and Rescue’s Marine Rescue Division in order to purchase the boats.
“Fire and Rescue Chief Robert Hall alerted us to this need – there were 53 vessel-related emergencies and 270-plus other aquatic emergencies in the last fiscal year, and St. Johns County Marine Rescue could have response gaps due to outdated or out-of-service equipment,” said Chairman Benjamin. “The two new rescue craft can be used in the river, the Intracoastal, or – because they can handle 15-ft. waves – even in the ocean. This will help to make response time much more efficient.”
Another recent investment in improved equipment was made in conjunction with the City Municipal Marina. Through an Interlocal Agreement, the Port Waterway & Beach District agreed to share half the costs of new lifts for the City of St. Augustine Fire Boat and the City of St. Augustine Police Boat. Installation of the boat lifts at the City Marina will significantly reduce the City’s Police and Fire Department’s response times to emergency calls that occur on local waterways.
The Port Waterway & Beach District is also in a partnership with the City of St. Augustine to address navigation problems in the channels at both Salt Run and the San Sebastian River. According to Chairman Benjamin, a grant application to Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) for the Salt Run Dredging project has been fully funded for the coming year.
The FIND grant will provide $434,705 and the Port Waterway & Beach District will provide $176,745 to remove 20,000 cubic yards from the north end of the Salt Run Channel. The City of St. Augustine will administer the dredging contract and monitor the project.
This is the first phase of a multi-year project to restore the historic channel from the inlet south to the City boat ramp at Lighthouse Park. Dredging will begin in January, and this first phase should be completed by May 2010.
The Port Waterway & Beach District is also working with the City to obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation to perform maintenance dredging of the channel in the San Sebastian River.
“This channel serves St. Augustine’s Working Waterfront,” Vice Chairman Carl Blow stressed. “The numerous marine-related businesses that depend on the San Sebastian River Channel provide a significant economic impact on St. Johns County, and are the source of hundreds of jobs.”
The Port Waterway & Beach District also invested $50,000 to fund the construction of a new bulkhead at the St. Johns County Council of Aging. The bulkhead will protect the new COA multipurpose building known as “Riverhouse” from high tides caused by tropical storms and northeasters. The new building is located on waterfront property owned by St. Johns County at the south end of Marine Street in St. Augustine.
“The waterfront property is owned by St. Johns County, which has committed to provide a portion of the funding,” said Mike Rubin, the County’s Director of Construction Services. “Thanks to generous funding from the St. Augustine Port Commission, the public will be able to enjoy the water view.”
All of the Port Commission’s recent projects have a significant impact on residents in St. Johns County, producing positive outcomes that will affect our safety and the enjoyment of area waterways for decades to come.