Over the next five years almost $4 billion is projected to flow to Florida's seaports to handle growing international trade.
A report from the Florida Ports Council says the money will come from state and local governments, as well as the private sector.
“For Pensacola’s part of that, it’s all based on five-year capital plans that each of the ports submit every year,” says Port of Pensacola Director Amy Miller. “Pensacola’s current five-year capital calls for about $21 million in capital improvements over the next five years.”
Miller says they’re in the design and engineering phase for a project at the port’s southeast corner, for what’s called “Berth-6.” Built in the 1960s, Berth-6 is the oldest dock that’s not undergone a makeover.
Other port projects involve paving, lighting and security enhancements. Meanwhile, the Port is seeking RESTORE funding to pay for 25 percent of the Berth-6 project. That money would be used to leverage federal and state grants to cover the remainder.
“We’ve already got about $4 million secured through the state, and we’ll be applying for additional rounds of state funding,” Miller said. “We’re currently evaluating the opportunity to apply for the next round of federal TIGER Grant funding.”
“TIGER” is Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. Those grants are awarded on a competitive basis for capital investments in surface transportation projects.
Three and a half million cargo containers came to the state's 14 ports in 2015, a nearly six percent increase from the year before. Tonnage and cruise passengers added a $140 million increase, up four percent.
Myriad goods are shipped out of the Port of Pensacola, including wind-generating turbines manufactured by the local General Electric plant.
“We have the aggregate rock that comes in from the Bahamas that’s used for the big project that’s being constructed on I-10,” said Miller. “We move a lot of paper for International Paper, and then of course we have the offshore oil and gas vessel support service.”
The Florida Ports Council report also says more than 15 million cruise passengers traveled through Key West, Jacksonville, Miami, Port Canaveral, Palm Beach, and Port Everglades last year. But Miller says don’t look for Pensacola to be added to that list anytime soon.
“And it’s not because of anything that the port lacks; the port could handle cruise ships anytime,” Miller said. “It’s the fact that the cruise industry – for whatever reason – does not view Pensacola as a marquee tourism market. And that’s problematic for us to market to cruise lines.”
The Port of Pensacola dates back to 1743 when the first record of commercial exported cargo, pine and pitch products, wood masts and spars for sailing vessels, were shipped out. But Director Amy Miller says the history gives way to modern-day practicality.
“We only have about an hour and 15 minutes steam time from open Gulf waters to dock, which is one of the shortest transits in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Miller. “A large, naturally deep [Pensacola Bay] that that we don’t have to dredge very often.”
Meanwhile, 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. Any projected state funding requires 50 percent matches from the local ports.