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Mayor On Port Bill: 'Sometimes Things Make No Sense'

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Port of Pensacola
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Legislation filed in the new session would strip communities of locally controlling their ports when it comes to shipments of hazardous materials.

The House Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee voted 12-6 to approve a revised measure (HB 267) that would only block local regulations at municipal-run ports in Pensacola, Panama City, and St. Petersburg.

Rep. Spencer Roach (R-North Fort Myers) is the sponsor.

“The bill as written, would prohibit a local government from denying entry into a Florida port based on the size, cargo type, number or nationality of passengers,” said Roach. “And this bill, if enacted, would freshly preempt those matters to the state of Florida.”

HB 267 is also another attempt at overturning the restrictions put in place in Key West. During the November election, voters there approved placing restrictions on cruise ships, effectively banning larger cruise ships such as the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder.

Along with what the bill would do, Roach also listed what it would not do.

“What the bill does not do is limit the authority of a port to regulate vessel movements; establish fees and compensation for its services,” Roach said. “It does not adopt guidelines for minimum bottom clearance and movement of vessels. Lines 79-85 [of the measure] prior to being amended, specifically allow port authorities to continue excursing their current powers under Florida law.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of port leaders and environmental advocates is calling on Roach to withdraw the measure.

“As filed, this bill and now as amended, circumvents the ability of municipal seaport boards to restrict and regulate commerce at their ports,” said Amy Miller, Port of Pensacola Director, to the subcommittee last week.

“As I read it,” Miller said, “I as the port director; my mayor as the CEO of the city of Pensacola, and my city council as the port’s governing body, would no longer have the authority to determine what types of cargo -- what volumes of cargo, what sizes of vessels, or what numbers and types of passengers make the most sense to our port and our local community.”

With all of the activity going on at the port involving the materials they handle, Miller said in 2019 that they draw the line at things that just don’t fit with the geography.

“Any kind of explosives, or dangerous chemicals; you’ll never see a shipment of fish meal; that stuff just stinks to high heaven,” said Miller. “We’re not just ever going to do anything that is going to be in opposition to the quality of life downtown.”

At that time, Miller had a ready response to people’s concerns about the port and the business it conducts.

“This is my community, too; I live here, too. I work at that office,” said Miller. “I’m not going to be bringing in anything that’s going to be a danger to my health, or that’s going to negatively impact my quality of life in any way.”

“It’s simply another preemption that just is crazy when you think about it; that we couldn’t even control what comes in,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson. “We say you can’t bring explosives into the port; now we wouldn’t be able to control that because of a law made in Tallahassee. Sometime these things make no sense.”

During his virtual news conference on Monday, the mayor said they’re studying the language of the bill, in hopes of it not having any impact on the Port of Pensacola.

“We certainly believe that if the purpose of this was to address cruise lines, then the stuff in the bill should be just cruise lines and not all of this other stuff,” said Robinson. “I know that the Senate has something a little bit different, and there may be a chance to fight it a little bit more over there.”

One of the issues contained in the measure is centralizing port decisions in the landlocked state capital.

“Why would you tell a port what they can and can’t do? Why does Tallahassee somehow know what’s best for Pensacola?” asked Robinson. “I don’t want to make those decisions for Key West; they should make their best decisions. And Miami should make their best decisions. We should be making the best decisions that are for Pensacola.”

Bottom line, contends the mayor, is that the preemptions listed in the bill simply won’t work.

“They don’t allow us to have local control; they don’t allow us to make those decisions here locally,’ said Robinson. “So absolutely, I think those are things that I do not support. Let local government make those decisions. I can’t say that enough.”