The seaports of the state of Florida may be the catalyst to its economic growth, business expansion and jobs. Florida has 15 seaports: Port of Pensacola, Port of Panama City, Port of Port St. Joe, Port Citrus, Port of Fernandina, Port of Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Port of Tampa, Port of St. Petersburg, Port Manatee, Port of Fort Pierce, Port of Palm Beach, Port Everglades, PortMiami, and Port of Key West.
Cargo and cruise related activity at Florida seaports generates approximately 670,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributes approximately $66 billion in economic value and 1.7 billion in taxes.
President Barack Obama recently visited PortMiami to raise awareness of the necessity of public-private partnerships in expanding the states seaports and using PortMiami as a model in building the nation’s infrastructure and creating jobs. The expansion would include harbor dredging to accommodate larger ships, cargo handling, and shore-side expansion to accommodate increased cruise passenger traffic.
Governor Rick Scott reinforced the message of President Obama and said, “Port expansion could lead to 143,000 new jobs and $21.5 billion of business.”
PortMiami, Port Everglades, and Port of Jacksonville are progressing in efforts to deepen
inlets and widen harbors to accommodate the largest cargo and cruise ships. Port of Palm Beach and Port Canaveral cannot handle the largest cargo and cruise ships, but they too are expanding with the hope of drawing larger cargo and cruise ships.
All of Florida’s seaports will contribute to the economic and business growth, but with an eye towards a few of the southeastern ports, Manuel Almira, director of the Port of Palm Beach said of President Obama and Governor Scott, “They get it. International business allows Florida to compete world-wide. But for us to do so, we have to accommodate larger vessels that are constantly changing and require more depth.”
Bill Johnson, director of PortMiami said, “We’re talking thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.” After addressing Florida members of congress in February, he said, “They don’t understand the need for urgency. They don’t understand the importance of getting the lead out. Third-world countries are outpacing the United States of America.”
Steve Cernak, port director of Port Everglades, and Stanley Payne, CEO of Port Canaveral also addressed Florida members of congress concerning their respective desires to deepen their inlets and harbors, and expansion of cruise ship capacity. Both expressed displeasure with the delay in receiving federal funding.
Governor Scott has also expressed his desire for the state to receive federal funding for dredging and expansion of Florida seaports, and has even suggested the federal government reimburse the state for funding the state has provided in its current seaport projects.
Florida has been pressing the federal government in an effort to overcome what is considered bureaucratic dragging of feet and congressional gridlock. Specifically, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which collects taxes on cargo and cruise ship tickets, has $7 billion in its coffers. The fund can be used to pay 75 percent of the total cost of dredging and expansion projects.
Such projects must first be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and then spending from the fund must be authorized by congress. Herein lies the delay; inconsistent demands from the Army Corps of Engineers in reviewing and approving projects, and getting congress to move on a bill to authorize spending on projects that have been approved.
As stated by Doug Wheeler, president of the Florida Ports Council, which represents Florida’s 15 seaports, “We’re just asking them to spend the money that they have for the reason they were collecting it from the ports to begin with.”
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