Gov. Scott floats seaports as economic lifeboat
By Scott Blake
Emerging from the dusty darkness of Port Miami's $1 billion double-tunnel project, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the cargo shipping industry — with Miami leading the way — is one of Florida's best hopes for an economic revival.
"We're going to continue to be a great tourism state. And we're going to continue to be a big agricultural state," Gov. Scott said after touring the tunnel last week. "But this is a big opportunity to make Florida at least the shipping capital of the [US] East Coast."
The governor also held a bill signing at Port Miami to earmark $200 million a year for state transportation priorities, including seaport investments and "strategic" projects.
Facility upgrades may be needed at Port Miami, which currently is battling cargo processing delays.
The port hosted a private meeting Monday to address the issue. Terminal operators, freight forwarders, shipping and trucking companies, and US Customs and Border Protection were invited.
Delays are triggered by a business increase and a resulting backlog at the port's South Florida Container Terminal LLC, according to a port representative who asked not to be named.
Mark Baker, South Florida Container Terminal's director, confirmed that as the main reason for the delays.
Meanwhile, Port Miami officials are carrying out facility improvements designed to attract more cargo in the future. In addition to the tunnel, that includes dredging the shipping channel, improving and expanding cargo piers and storage areas, installing larger cargo cranes and reopening a cargo rail line into the port.
During his visit, Gov. Scott said the state's efforts to help grow the cargo industry should pay off in creation of thousands of jobs, including many in Miami.
Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who accompanied him, said perishables destined for Florida often bypass Port Miami and other Florida ports to be shipped into other states, with the goods then trucked back south to Florida.
The roundabout shipping routes to Florida often stem from a lack of federal screening operations and local "cold treatment" protocols to protect produce from harmful insects and diseases, or are simply the result of established shipping practices, according to industry officials.
They said progress is being made on those issues in hopes that South Florida ports can be opened more to perishables.
The tunnel project, slated for completion in May 2014, is one of several initiatives to make it easier to move cargo through Port Miami.
About 70% of the 4,185-foot first tunnel has been drilled, starting at the MacArthur Causeway on Watson Island and going to the port on Dodge Island. Officials expect to break through to Dodge Island in late July. The giant drill then will be disassembled and repositioned to bore the second tunnel back to Watson Island.
Project officials said the tunnel project itself so far has employed nearly 590 people through the main contractor, with about 4,600 others employed through subcontractors and vendors.
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.