Seaports along Florida’s Gulf Coast are bustling with an increasingly diverse spectrum of activities, handling far more than burgeoning containerized cargo volumes.
From imports of yachts to the final construction of ferry boats, from exports of wood pellets to the conversion of a roll-on/roll-off vessel into a platform for landing space rockets, Florida Gulf seaports are hosting a remarkably wide array of the goings-on.
Starting near the entrance to Tampa Bay and progressing north and then westward, here’s a roundup of the latest at Florida seaports along the Gulf of Mexico:
Enjoying record containerized cargo activity – up 53.3 percent in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2021, compared with the preceding 12-month period – Port Manatee is expanding its container yard while broadening its cargo base. As part of a $74 million capital improvement plan, the $13.1 million project to more than double Port Manatee’s dockside container yard to 23.5 acres is nearing completion.
Manatee County’s seaport has become an import hub for leading recreational boat retailer MarineMax Inc. and a center for recycled steel material exports by a subsidiary of Peru-based Aceros Arequipa. Also, the port has extended its three-decades-long import relationship with Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc., seen the expansion of services across the Gulf of Mexico by Port Manatee-based World Direct Shipping, and renewed its fuels receiving and distribution agreement with TransMontaigne Terminals LLC.
And Regional Rail LLC has assumed operation of the seaport-owned Port Manatee Railroad LLC short line.
Port Tampa Bay
Billed as Florida’s largest and most diverse port, Port Tampa Bay, like its competitor closer to the entrance of Tampa Bay, is experiencing unprecedented growth in containers, with the number of 20-foot-equivalent units crossing its docks growing 29 percent in fiscal 2021, thanks to an expanding market, strategic investment, and attraction of new services.
The Tampa Bay/Interstate 4 corridor region is home to almost half of Florida’s population and the largest concentration of distribution centers in the state, approaching 400 million square feet of capacity.
Port Tampa Bay is accommodating growth via a terminal build-out program, in close coordination with terminal operator partner Ports America. Most of the top global container lines now provide weekly service from Asia to Port Tampa Bay, while the recent addition of new weekly container service from Central America by Dole Fresh Fruit and expanded connections with Mexico by ZIM and Linea Peninsular have diversified offerings.
Port of Port St. Joe
Along the Florida Panhandle, the Port of Port St. Joe is continuing to make strides after being inactive since the closure of the St. Joe Co.’s paper mill in the late 1990s.
A recent $15 million Triumph Gulf Coast grant award from funds related to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is to be used toward returning the port channel to its permitted depth of as many as 37 feet, with hopes for the dredging process to begin in early 2023.
In the meantime, with oceangoing vessels unable to reach port berths, barges are being deployed to transport cargo to and from transloading in bay waters. Those cargos include wood chips exported to Honduras for power generation at textile plants. Also, Eastern Shipbuilding is using the port for finishing work on three new Staten Island ferries and six U.S. Coast Guard cutters being built 40 miles away in Panama City.
Port Panama City
At Port Panama City, Alex King has been promoted to the executive director position vacated by the retirement of Wayne Stubbs, while veteran SSA Terminals executive Damien Bressler has come aboard to fill the deputy director role.
Facilities at Port Panama City’s new East Terminal are busy moving forest product exports, while the port’s container trade with Mexico continues to grow as well, supported by the completion of a 70,000-square-foot container freight station. In addition, the port is moving forward with the construction of a 20,000-ton-capacity wood pellet storage dome and, 15 miles inland, a 50-acre expansion of its Intermodal Distribution Center.
Also, a $55 million, 251,000 -square-foot FedEx Ground facility is being built on a 33-acre site at the Intermodal Distribution Center through a collaborative effort with the Bay Economic Development Alliance, the City of Panama City, and Bay County. The FedEx facility is anticipated to support more than 200 local jobs.
Port of Pensacola
At the Florida Panhandle’s northwest tip, the city-owned Port of Pensacola continues broadening its activity mix while increasing cargo volumes, with GE Wind Energy components, aggregate, and bulk cement being primary commodities.
At leased port facilities, Offshore Inland Marine is converting a 630-foot-long vessel, Jacklyn, into a landing platform for Blue Origin space rockets, while marine maintenance, repair, and overhaul operations include those taking place on Subsea 7’s Seven Arctic pipe-laying vessel.
The Port of Pensacola also is home to the Pensacola Bay Oysters hatchery and a Streamline Boats of Northwest Florida pleasure craft manufacturing facility, with the latter lease agreement calling for the company to complete construction of a pair of port warehouse buildings. And the New York Yacht Club American Magic team is anticipated to once again lease space this year to serve as a training center for competition in the 37th America’s Cup, to be held in 2024.