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New Economic Hope for Port St. Joe

July 8th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Port St. Joe, the North Florida town where Florida’s first constitution was drafted in the 1830’s, died economically when the major employer closed just over two decades ago

But now there is new hope and it begins with New York City’s Staten Island Ferry.

Until just a little over 20 years ago a paper mill in Port St. Joe was the lifeblood of the community.

When it closed 500 jobs went with it.

Now three Staten Island Ferries are being readied on the old site and there is new economic hope.

“It was a blow,” said State Representative Jason Shoaf.

Shoaf ran and won on bringing jobs back.

“All of my friends, all of my family. Everyone either worked at the paper mill or in a job indirectly tied to the paper mill,” said Shoaf.

“A lot of jobs went away for Gulf County, so a lot of people had to move away,” said Sandy Quinn, Chair of the Gulf County Commission.

Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City won the contract to build three Staten Island Ferry’s.

“There’s about 200 on this site, working on these vessels,” said Joey D’Isernia, President of Eastern Shipbuilding.

D’Isernia said the site was tailor made.

“It has good deep water, a good strong bulkhead, and no air draft restrictions, which means we don’t have a bridge or anything we need to go under,” said D’Isernia.

The first ferry will leave for New York in about 30 days, the second, six months later and the third six months after that.

Even three-term Gulf County Sheriff Mike Harrison once worked at the mill.

“See all of the jobs and everything we are hoping to keep here local. It’s going to have a huge impact,” said Harrison.

After the ferries leave, the company will be building at least four and as many as 15 high-tech Coast Guard Cutter’s, which are expected to bring even more jobs.

The county has already invested $6 million in the project and has plans for another $50 million investment.

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