By the end of this month, they’ll be shipping wood out of Port St. Joe to Honduras, a first chip in what county leaders hope will be a big block of economic growth.
At Tuesday morning’s county commission meeting, Gulf County Economic Development Coalition Director Jim McKnight shared the details of the export deal, an agreement between the Port St. Joe Port Authority and the Twin Rivers Company, based in Perry, Georgia, to export woody biomass to Honduras for the use of power generation.
“This is a great opportunity that has taken a long time coming, hopefully this is just the start we need to see more activity at the Port,” said Port Authority Chairman Guerry Magidson.
“We are back in the port business and as importantly, the timber business in Gulf County,” said McKnight. “The project will create around 10 onsite jobs at the port and upwards of 100 timber-related jobs inland, a number that would double Gulf County’s timber-related jobs.”
Clay Crosby, owner and CEO of Twin Rivers Company, Inc., said in the news release that “this is a long-term project that has been in the works for many years.
“The ability for Twin Rivers to bring an outlet for non-merchantable timber, such as the woody material left behind after Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle’s timberlands is certainly a sight for sore eyes,” Crosby said. “By creating a market for the woody biomass heavily located in the Gulf County area, we are able to help mitigate some of the high cleanup costs landowners are still dealing with throughout the area.”
Magidson said an agreement between Twin Rivers and The St. Joe Company, to lease an area on the western side of the port, will lead to starting improvements this week on the St. Joe bulkhead.
“They’re going to be doing the site work,” he said. “They’ll utilize part of the Arizona Chemical site to weigh the trucks.”
The wood being exported will originate from different landowners in the timber business.
“The majority of it is from wood lying on the ground, damaged from Hurricane Michael,” Magidson said.
Because there is still some damage from Hurricane Michael, and the fact that the port will need further dredging so harbor pilots are willing to escort larger barges in and out, the wood, after it is chipped onsite, will be taken to Tampa, and then relayed to Honduras.
“Until that’s done the harbor pilots won’t come in here,” Magidson said. “To get cargo ships you still need to dredge the shipping channel.”
McKnight said Twin Rivers is working on a plan to have the barges return to the United States with cargo, perhaps aggregate rock, adding to the cost-efficiency of the project.
He also noted that arrangements have been made to avoid trucks crossing U.S. 98 “and making what already exists a little more passable.
“They’ll come down the industrial road that diverges off of 71 seven miles north, that used to be the road that went to the paper mill,” said McKnight. “The idea iss to go under the existing overpass for the rail system.”
Magidson said the project will put a dent in the billions of dollars in damage to the Panhandle timber industry wreaked by Hurricane Michael.
“It’s timber that can’t be used for paper or logs or lumber,” he said. “Initially, this year they’ll probably ship around 100,000 metric tons. The overall plan will eventually be shipping 60,000 tons per month.”