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Revitalizing a 19th century port for 21st century commerce

With its new berthing facility and a planned deepwater port development, Port St. Joe is well positioned to take advantage of its strategic location.


During the 1830s, Florida’s Port St. Joe competed with Charleston and New Orleans as an exporter of cotton, lumber, and naval stores. A railway was built from Lake Wimico to the Gulf Coast port, where long wharves reached into the bay. The town’s population grew to about 12,000 and it was planned to become the state capital.

In 1841 a ship from Cuba brought yellow fever into the port, and in a matter of weeks the town was deserted. A hurricane in September 1844 helped complete the destruction.

The railroad was revived in 1910, and tracks were laid onto new 1,800-foot (548-meter) piers so that ships could unload and load directly onto railroad cars. Shipping increased until the stock market crash of 1929, when Alfred DuPont bought the railway and 200,000 acres of timberland with the intention of building a modern paper mill.

The docks of the new St. Joe Paper Company were completed in 1938, followed by a tank farm and oil docks in 1941. Port St. Joe was once again a trading center. Beginning in the 1980s, however, business gradually declined until the last cargo ship visited the port in 1996. The local population in 2000 was only 3,644.


Recognizing that Port St. Joe still had the potential to succeed, the Port Authority of Port St. Joe and TEC, Inc. drew up a Port Master Plan for the expansion and revitalization of Port St. Joe, including a channel dredging project and new bulkheads along the Gulf County Canal.

In 2007, the Port Authority retained Mott MacDonald as its first "on-call" engineering consultant. Our first major assignment was for the design of the port's first berthing facilities.

The Port Authority purchased a 68-acre (27-acre) parcel adjacent to US Highway 98 and the Gulf County Canal to develop a shallow-draft berth for inland barge traffic. A bathymetric survey of the canal and geotechnical investigation of soil conditions at the project site provided the background information required for the design.

The berthing facility consists of a steel sheet-pile bulkhead wall approximately 900 feet (274 meters) long that will initially accommodate shallow-water barges with a draft depth of 12 feet (3.6 meters). The facility was designed to handle a future draft depth of 22 feet (6.7 meters) to accommodate oceangoing barge vessels.

The project, conducted in 2008 and 2009, required the dredging of approximately 60,000 cubic yards (46,000 cubic meters) of canal bottom and upland excavation. An upland disposal site was designed to accommodate the dredged spoils.

Mooring bollards and cleats were installed on the top side of the bulkhead cap with a rubber-tire fender system along the seaward side of the cap. A cathodic protection system was installed on the bulkhead cap and the sheet piles were coated with a corrosion-resistant coal-tar epoxy-type paint. The ends of the bulkhead were armored against wave action with rip-rap stone.

Mott MacDonald was responsible for the preliminary and final layout of all marine structural components, site engineering activities, and upland dredge material storage efforts. The project also included local and state permitting efforts as well as on-site inspection and full construction administration.

We later provided the Port Authority with designs and construction management for a paved access road to the new bulkhead. We also prepared a corridor location study for rail access to the 68-acre property.

In the summer of 2013, we were tasked with securing permits for the maintenance dredging of the 13-mile (21-kilometer) ship channel, a project that the Port Authority is undertaking in the absence of Army Corps of Engineers funding. The dredging is the first major step toward the development of deepwater seaport facilities as projected in a new 2013 Port Master Plan. That plan contemplates a 300-acre (121-acre) port development supported by 5,000 vacant acres (2,023 hectares) inland and along the Intracoastal Waterway.


Port St. Joe is one of only three state-designated ports along North Florida’s Gulf Coast. The port and its surrounding area have been designated as an Enterprise Zone and the entire region recognizes that the port will be an economic engine benefiting all.

With its new berthing facility and the planned deepwater port development, Port St. Joe is well positioned to take advantage of its strategic location. The port offers a more direct route from the Panama Canal than Houston or Miami, and provides barge access to inland rivers and waterways through the US Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which runs more than a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers) from Carrabelle, FL, to Brownsville, TX. The port has convenient rail connections and is 21 miles from Apalachicola Regional Airport via US Highway 98.

Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL, has leased 20 acres (8 hectares) at the port site to expand its shipbuilding, repair, and industrial steel fabrication operations. Green Circle Bio Energy has signed a letter of intent to develop a wood-pellet production facility, and is committing a minimum of 150,000 tons of export through the port.

Enova Energy Group has also signed a letter of intent, committing an additional 1.1 million short tons of wood pellets to the port each year, for shipment to customers overseas. These tonnage commitments, and the growing number of others expressing interest in locating at the port, provide the economic justification to revitalize the Port of Port St. Joe.

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