Haiti restoration fuels Miami River business spurt
By Rachel Tannenbaum
The job of restoring Haiti after its massive 2010 earthquake has increased business along the Miami River as it recovers itself after storms Fay, Gustav, Hannah and Ike damaged river businesses in 2008, says Rick Eyerdam, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group.
Coming soon, he notes, may be similar business traffic to Cuba.
Many of those river businesses, he says, are now doing well and even growing.
Recently Richard Dubin, Haiti Shipping Line vice president, counted five ships in his terminal, which Mr. Eyerdam said is a record.
Mr. Dubin said terminals along the river, not just his, have been at full capacity, which hasn't been seen in recent years.
The Miami River's ten regularly scheduled cargo ships a week sail to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Bimini, Mr. Eyerdam said. The port sees about 53 arrivals of commercial vessels monthly, according to the US Coast Guard Section Miami.
"Business has generally been slow throughout the country," Mr. Dubin said, "but there has been more interest in the marine industry."
The aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti requires much reconstruction, which has brought a lot of business to the river. Shallow-draft vessels are necessary to navigate the river, which although recently dredged is only 15 feet deep.
The substantial boost in shipments to Haiti, Mr. Dubin said, can be largely credited to new President Michel Joseph Martelly and Prime Minister Dr. Garry Conille.
Mr. Eyerdam said he's hopeful the new government there will allow customs to move forward.
"We will hopefully be able to trade more than corruption," Mr. Eyerdam said. "The corruption used to be so bad."
Businesses along the Port of Miami River do a lot of business with Haiti by exporting products that aren't typically high in value but are high in use, such as bicycles, mattresses and old cars.
About 20% of the containerized cargo generating from the river is bulk and break bulk. That's especially true of the smaller Haitian vessels that traffic in foods, furniture, rice and transportation equipment.
Apparel bound for the Dominican Republic is also a major commodity shipped from the river.
The port of the Miami River is the recycling capital of the Caribbean, Mr. Eyerdam said: what is wasted here goes there.
"These are treasures for Haiti because many have never even slept in a bed before," he said. "An old Toyota is broken down and becomes an auto supply store."
Cheap airfare and lodging throughout the Caribbean have kept Miami River businesses busy exporting to resorts.
"When vacationers go to these resorts they want to be able to eat American and European food." Mr. Eyerdam said. "They are importing a lot of liquor, beef and food,"
Although filming occurs along the Miami River, Mr. Eyerdam said he doesn't deal directly with each production. He said the short-lived series "Charlie's Angels" filmed along the Miami River without ever approaching him.
On the other hand, Mr. Eyerdam said, he was approach by the crew of "Step-Up 4" to help look for a container they could use to film a dance scene, but the production team ended up building a set for its dance scene.
Taxes, which Mr. Eyerdam said have always been a problem for businesses along the Miami River, have become less so since Pedro Garcia became Miami-Dade's first elected property appraiser and changed appraisal standards.
During the economic boom, the land along the river attracted the attention of residential developers. As a result, Mr. Eyerdam said, neighbors and businesses began to suffer from increased property values and higher taxes. The boom threatened to shut down marine business along the working river.
Mr. Eyerdam said when the county now appraises land along the river for taxes, it is done at its current use, which has saved businesses that couldn't afford to pay a tax evaluation based on highest and best use of the property, the former appraisal method for commercial property.
The real estate boom was also seen in the Caribbean with many resorts and homes being built, Mr. Eyerdam said.
"This was huge for the river," Mr. he said. "The landing crafts could pull up to the beach and unload a refrigerator. The real estate boom affected everyone."
Boating maintenance is also increasing business along the river. Mr. Eyderdam said a boat above 40 feet long, a "mega-yacht," must be hauled from the water at least every four years to clean the bottom.
"If you don't, the boat will burn a lot of fuel, it won't go fast and it won't impress your friends," he said. "Four years is a long time to go without hauling a boat and cleaning and repainting the bottom."
The US ranks second in mega yacht construction, after Italy, and the grouping of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties represents a significant cluster of professional services and talents necessary for the world's mega-yacht industry, according to a study of mega-yacht impact by Thomas J. Murray & Associates.
"Having boat repairs done in Miami is so unique because you can come have your boat worked on and go play on South Beach," Mr. Eyerdam said. "You can't do that in Broward."
As for the future, Mr. Eyerdam said a cargo terminal on the Miami River is in the process of completing the steps necessary to carry humanitarian cargo to Cuba, much as Crowley Maritime is now doing from the Port Everglades, but it would need special security.
As for the need of a Cuba link, Mr. Eyerdam said, "It is a matter of time."
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