By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTFrom container terminal projects at Tampa Bay ports to development of multifaceted facilities along the Panhandle, Florida Gulf ports are gearing up for increased commerce as the 2014 projected completion of expansion of the Panama Canal nears.
Despite challenging current economic conditions, the philosophy of Florida Gulf port officials appears to be that this is no time to stop developing infrastructure to accommodate trade growth, not only to be associated with the canal expansion but also with a possible near-future opening of US trade relations with Cuba.
Looking one-by-one at the Sunshine State’s ports along the Gulf of Mexico, beginning at Tampa Bay and continuing north and then westward on the Florida Panhandle:
Central Florida’s Port Manatee, near the entrance to Tampa Bay, is taking multiple steps to advance containerized shipping opportunities and capitalize upon its location as the closest US deepwater seaport to the Panama Canal.
Last month, Port Manatee officials signed a memorandum of understanding with Panama Canal Authority counterparts, plus Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill that extends permitting exemptions for major regional developments to 3 miles beyond Florida port boundaries – a bill that should particularly benefit Port Manatee as Manatee County officials passed in May an ordinance providing economic incentives to attract new industries and distribution centers to the 3,700-acre Port Manatee Encouragement Zone.
Port Manatee’s infrastructure, which a year and a half ago saw addition of the port’s first mobile container crane, is moving toward completion of an expansion program, begun in 1999, the next phase of which calls for creation of 4,800 linear feet of berthing on the port’s north side. Dredging along the 1,584-foot-long Berth 12 should be done by early 2010. Also, progress is being made on funding for a dedicated port connector roadway to Interstate 75, in hopes of completion by 2014.
Also, Port Manatee recently added trans-Gulf barge service to Brownsville, Texas. (See separate article on page 3 of issue #453.)
PORT OF TAMPA
As set out by Tampa Port Authority strategic master planning unveiled last year, the Port of Tampa Container Terminal, in conjunction with terminal operating partner Ports America, is undergoing expansion, with completion slated by November for an increase of paved storage area to 40 acres from the current 25 acres, plus installation of an additional 52 refrigerated cargo plugs. The terminal, served by a 43-foot-deep channel and offering 2,100 feet of berth, with three rail-mounted gantries and a mobile harbor crane, is targeted for future expansion to encompass more than 160 acres with additional equipment and enhanced rail access.
While still Florida’s No. 1 tonnage port thanks largely to its traditional bulk cargo strength, Tampa is growing its presence as a distribution hub for serving the Central Florida market of 8 million consumers. Companies having recently constructed and/or expanded distribution facilities in the Tampa region include Rooms to Go, Southern Wine & Spirits, Lowes, Haverty’s, Pepsico, Bealls, United Natural Foods, Premier Beverages, Kane’s Furniture, VF Imagewear, Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware, SYSCO/International Food Group, Publix and Perry Ellis.
Meanwhile, the Executive Shippers’ Council, a group representing the Tampa port’s key importers and exporters, is encouraging increasing container line calls at the port, which gets weekly direct calls from Asia by Zim Integrated Shipping.
PORT OF PORT ST. JOE
As a dredging and bulkhead project for a 12-foot-draft barge facility nears completion, the Port of Port St. Joe is looking toward expansion of that terminal plus eventual development of a deepwater site. Supported by $5 million in state grants and $2 million in local funds, impro