The Florida Ports Caucus met Tuesday to discuss the priorities and needs of the state’s ports.
The Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2019 announced by Congress in February provided nearly $293 million in grant funding for U.S. coastal ports. About one-third of the money — $92.73 million — is reserved for the country’s top 15 ports, with a priority for projects that construct Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service treatment facilities to provide phytosanitary treatments.
Florida’s three ports eligible for the $92.73 million — PortMiami, Port Everglades and JAXPORT — should take advantage of the opportunity this year, said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., ranking member of the House Appropriations Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies subcommittee, on Tuesday during a Florida Ports Caucus meeting.
“It’s the first time in history that the Congress has now put real money … into ports and on top of that with this provision to deal with those that were struggling and suffering because of the fumigation issue,” said Diaz-Balart, the former chairman of the subcommittee, at the Florida Ports Caucus meeting. “Now that I’m a ranking member, I keep reminding people that $93 million that those three ports in particular … can tap into, do it this year. Because next year I don’t chair this anymore.
“It’s a huge victory,” he continued. “Huge, huge victory, particularly for Florida ports and for ports in general.”
Juan Kuryla, port director and CEO of PortMiami, said the funding could help Floridian ports get on the same level as ports such as Philadelphia and Wilmington.
“Having a facility at PortMiami, or other ports in Florida, where we can treat these types of commodities in a similar fashion as they’re being treated in northern ports where you can fumigate … in bulk, if you will, instead of an individual basis … will provide a level playing field for Florida ports,” he said.
“We want equity in terms of the cost so that our shipping lines, our importers can bring commodities and bring products through Florida ports. This is what we believe this opportunity is going to create,” Kuryla said.
Kuryla, who is also the chair of the Florida Ports Council, said the state’s ports share similar issues of connectivity and dredging.
“Two or three things in common: the ability to have deeper channels to come into our ports and connect those ports to the highway system for easier distribution,” he said in response to a question from Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla.
February’s minibus also included $87 million for Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants and $100 million for port security grants and increased Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staffing by 600 officers in fiscal year 2019.
Diane Sabatino, director of field operations for CBP’s Miami and Tampa offices, said she “would never decline additional resources at any of our ports of entry.”
CBP is in the process of developing projects, mostly regarding cruise passengers, in which new personnel wouldn’t necessarily help, she said, and those resources could be used for other threats.
“I think at this time with the growth keeping pace … is a challenge for us, but it also drives us to refine and streamline and look at the enterprise we are responsible for and do it as efficiently as possible,” she said.
Kevin Shea, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said he believed they have “a good staff in South Florida.”
Kuryla said, “I know that the administrator and the director were asked about staffing needs. … I can tell you as a port director … the need for additional resources at the federal agencies is something that we all are very supportive of.”