Nearly $3.7 billion is projected to be spent — through state, local and private dollars — over the next five years to handle growing international trade at the majority of Florida seaports, according to a report released Monday by the Florida Ports Council.
The spending outline, which comes as the global economy sputters but Florida’s ports record growth in cargo tonnage and cruise passengers, is a $140 million increase — 4 percent — from a projected five-year capital improvement plan released a year ago
More than half of the money in the latest five-year plan is to flow through Port Canaveral, Port Everglades and JaxPort for large dredging projects and terminal facilities upgrades, while no expenditures are currently listed in the council’s 2016 Seaport Mission Plan for Port St. Joe, Port of Fort Pierce or Port Citrus.
The report is expected to help the council argue for the continued flow of money for the industry, which has been one of Gov. Rick Scott’s priorities since taking office in 2011.
Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler said the report shows more cargo is moving through the state. “It’s another way for us to tell the story of what’s happening in our ports around the state,” Wheeler said.
The demand for deeper harbors and channels to handle ever-larger cargo ships, along with more cargo and passenger terminal facilities, comes as the World Bank Group’s Global Economic Prospects report indicates China — which has surpassed Colombia as Florida’s number two international trading partner — is in a commodities slump and there are economic contractions in Brazil. Brazil is easily Florida’s top trading partner.
Still, the Ports Council report noted the state’s seaports handled 3.5 million cargo containers in 2015, up 5.9 percent from the prior year.
The tonnage within the containers grew 6.6 percent year to year, while the value of the materials inside went down — a reflection of the surge in the U.S. dollar.
“I think I’d rather have the increase in volume of containers and tonnage,” Wheeler said. “More volume, I see as really translating into eventually more jobs and that more people are touching those containers.”
The report notes that the state’s passenger cruise industry has also rebounded from the recession even though cruise passenger numbers recently dipped 2 percent.
The 15.2 million cruise passengers traveling through Key West, JaxPort, PortMiami, Port Canaveral, Port of Palm Beach and Port Everglades during the 2014-2015 season is the second highest in a past decade, surpassed only by the 15.6 million in 2013-2014 season.
Wheeler attributed the decline to ship maintenance and a few seasonal “repositionings” by cruise lines of some ships. The Ports Council also anticipates cruise lines bringing larger ships into the Florida fleet in the coming year.
“I expect to see that (passenger count) number come back up this year,” Wheeler said.
The report doesn’t make any projections regarding the recent opening of Cuba to passenger service.
“That’s still such an unknown area,” Wheeler said. “I would expect we would benefit from that. But right now, free and open cruising is still not where we are.”
Any projected state funding requires 50 percent matches from the local ports.
The Legislature provided about $850 million for port upgrades and expansion during Scott’s first five years in office. The biggest beneficiaries have been PortMiami, JaxPort, Port Tampa Bay and Port Canaveral.
The state’s $82 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes $153 million for port projects administered by the Department of Transportation.
In the 2016 session, lawmakers also approved a wide-ranging transportation bill (HB 7027) that boosts the minimum annual funding for the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development program — administered by the Florida Ports Council — from $15 million to $25 million.
Under the new capital improvement plan, $1.2 billion would go over the next five years to JaxPort, where the St. Johns River channel is being dredged to 47 feet. Another $792 million is headed to Port Everglades and $753 million to Port Canaveral, which is pursuing on-dock rail for a new state-of-the-art container terminal in the north cargo area.
PortMiami, which is among America’s busiest cargo ports and had been the biggest beneficiary of the state’s prior port spending, is up for $291 million for projects that include a new cruise terminal for Royal Caribbean and expansion of a terminal for Carnival Vista.
Port Panama City is seeking $76 million as it seeks to double trade with Mexico and Central America, in part by expanding its freight distribution services. At the Port of Pensacola, where the wind turbine business is a major component, plans are for $20 million in upgrades.
Jim Turner / News Service of Florida
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