Florida Seaport Update

A stroke of the president’s pen has buoyed spirits and launched ambitious new goals at the state’s seaports.

When John Walsh strode to the podium during his 2014 State of the Port address in June, it didn’t take long to learn that the Port Canaveral CEO was  brimming with optimism. He greeted the crowd by saying, “We’re no longer ‘The Little Port Who Could!’”

He received cheers.

Indeed, it’s been a monumental year for the port, with the opening of the $23 million, 22,000-square-foot Exploration Tower in November just the beginning.

Walsh also discussed plans to widen and deepen the port’s channel to accommodate larger cargo ships and international activity. The port will dredge down to 55 feet — the only port in the Southeast able to make that claim. 

There’s more.

Recent negotiations with longtime tenant Morton Salt resulted in a 10-year lease extension and the addition of two acres. Morton Salt vowed to invest $5 million in expanding its plant. Overall, cargo tonnage at the port will rise to 4 million this year, with a projection to double tonnage and triple revenue over the next three years.

The port has its sights set on the horizon that will take its economic impact from $3.5 billion today to $20 billion in the next decade. 

Port Canaveral is not alone. Buoyed by new resources, Florida’s other seaports are also making waves. In June, President Obama signed the Water Resources Development Act (WRRDA), a bill that authorizes $12 billion in new funding for seaport and waterway infrastructure projects. The ports didn’t waste time setting sail. (See Page 63.)

At Port Tampa Bay, President and CEO Paul Anderson said the goal is to “build this port into one of the most dynamic and diversified seaports in the country.”

Home to three towering Post Panamax gantry cranes, two additional cranes are in the works for 2015. Port Tampa Bay’s container terminal, at 40 acres, has a throughput capacity of about a quarter-million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year. Increasing that capacity is a central focus of the port’s growth moving forward. Eventually, at full  buildout, the container terminal will be 160 acres, with 1 million TEU throughput capacity, Anderson says.

Internationally, Port Tampa Bay connects the region with Russia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and it’s a chief reason the Tampa-Orlando/ Interstate 4 corridor is the 10th-largest economy in the nation, boasting a GDP of more than $302 billion. 

Similarly, JAXPORT has designs on greater engagement. Dredging of the
St. Johns River will take the existing 40-foot deep harbor to 47 feet at its deepest point.  The $684 million project started on June 17.

In addition, there’s planned construction at Mile Point to eliminate the navigational hazards. Scheduled to begin in early 2015, the project is deemed essential to the port’s growth in international trade.

The construction comes at a vital time for the port. In May, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., implemented a new route to transport containers from South America for transfer to Europe-bound ships. The route enables local growers to ship more  exports from Jacksonville.

And in Broward, Port Everglades’ 20-year, $1.6 billion plan was approved by county commissioners in June. The port forecasts doubling cargo and increasing cruise passengers by 40 percent in the next 20 years.

Finally, the opening of PortMiami’s $1 billion  tunnel, set for July, is expected to re-route some 16,000  vehicles that currently must travel through downtown  Miami.

According to the Florida Ports Council, last year the seaports moved 105.1 million total tons of cargo, traded with more than 200 countries globally and served 14.1 million cruise passengers. Yet for the seaports, it’s not enough.

To accommodate growing business and capture new opportunities — and with legislative support — they have programmed $4 billion in improvements over the next five years. And they’re moving full steam ahead to make it happen.

This article was printed as “Making Waves.”