December 18, 2014

Miami-Dade

Port of Miami: Dredging Deeper

'Don Carlos'
The post-Panamax "Don Carlos" had to make sure it wasn't loaded to capacity on a visit to the Port of Miami in 2010.

In 2014, two new locks will come into service at the Panama Canal, accommodating ships carrying nearly three times as much cargo as today's canal-transiting ships. Gov. Rick Scott's surprising announcement in March that the state will contribute $77 million to a dredging project will help to make the Port of Miami one of the few ports on the eastern seaboard that can accommodate those gigantic ships.

The post-Panamax ships will require deeper harbors — 50 feet rather than 42 — for loading and offloading cargo. A dredging project already under way at the Port of Virginia will have that port ready to accommodate the ships in 2014. Miami is the only other port on the seaboard that Congress has approved for such a dredge and that can have it finished by 2014.

If ships can't load and unload cargo at the Port of Miami, says Port Director Bill Johnson, they will likely bypass a southern U.S. stop altogether. Without the port at 50 feet, Johnson says, "millions of containers will likely go to Freeport, Bahamas, and other ports outside the U.S.," he says.

The project was ready to go, waiting only for the federal government's portion of the funding to add to the $137.5 million committed by the county and state. But funding wasn't included in President Barack Obama's budget this year. Then in early March, Scott directed the state Department of Transportation to loan the port $77 million for the project. The port, in turn, will forward the money to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the project.

The Legislature must pass the funding, which Johnson and Scott think is highly likely. "It's an impact statewide," says Johnson, noting that no other Florida ports have the needed congressional approval to dredge to 50 feet. And, the port will continue to lobby Congress to appropriate its share of the money, hoping to reimburse the state for the loan.

The Army Corps is already working on the documents for bidding, which will start at the end of the year. Construction is expected to begin by mid-2012.

Bill Johnson
Port Director Bill Johnson

Tags: Miami-Dade

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