Tampa ports weigh canal expansion
Two Florida West Coast ports on Tampa Bay believe there will be opportunities from the expansion of the Panama Canal to increase their involvement in the container business.
In separate interviews on Monday, Richard Wainio, port director and chief executive officer of the Tampa Port Authority, and Steve Tyndal, senior director of trade development and special projects at Port Manatee, said they thought the canal could bring additional services and cargo to their facilities.
They made their remarks on the eve of a two-day conference in Tampa sponsored by the American Association of Port Authorities and the U.S. Maritime Administration entitled “Shifting International Trade Routes-Examining the Impact of the Panama Canal Expansion.”
The ports say they are the closest ports to the Panama Canal, because ships sailing to Tampa Bay round the west end of Cuba have a relatively straight shot from isthmus as opposed to ports in South Florida such as Miami and Port Everglades.
Expansion of the canal, expected to be completed in 2014, will increase the size of the largest containerships that can transit the canal from 4,800 TEUs to 12,600 TEUs.
Neither port foresees the very largest mega-containerships calling Tampa Bay, but both think there will be able to attract smaller ships that will continue to use the canal or from feeder ships that will receive and feed cargo to the megaships at transshipment hubs in the Caribbean or Latin America.
Zim, Horizon Lines, Peruvian Amazon Line and Thompson Line already operate container services through Tampa, and Wainio said that he would like to bring others. But because of difficult conditions in the container trade, 'it's difficult for them to consider a new service at this point. Most have been consolidating and focusing on their main trade routes that they already have set up and they are not looking to branch out.
'But nevertheless we have several that have shown interest in Tampa,' he said. 'Over the next year or two as things start to improve we will see other carriers take the plunge here.'
Tampa is expanding its container terminal, and last fall increased the amount of paved storage from about 25 acres to 40 acres.
The port is building a new link to Interstate 4 that will speed the movement of trucks in and out of the port including those draying containers or carrying bulk cargo.
Port Manatee, a smaller port closer to the mouth of the bay, is also making plans to attract container service. This year it is dredging and extending its Berth 12 from 1,000 to 1,584 feet in length and plans to add 32 acres and eventually more than 50 acres of back-up space behind it.
In addition to its location, Tyndal said Port Manatee has 'the land, political will and management experience to grow not just the port, but the maritime community that serves the port. We have land, which is a rarity in most port environments that is incentivized locally to attract distribution centers and terminal operators.'
He points to the creation of a 5,000 acre Port Manatee Encouragement Zone by the port authority and Manatee County Commission that would provides a variety of economic incentives to facilities set up in the area. The port has had discussions with developers of distribution centers and warehouses about building new facilities within the zone. Port Manatee is planning construction of a connector road from the port and surrounding road to I-75.
While Wainio and Tyndal each feel their port has advantages over the other, they say a common goal is to move more of the cargo consumed by the 8 million or so people in Western and Central Florida .With anticipated growth, the population that could reach 15 million in 10-15 years, creating a megalopolis stretching from Tampa to Orlando, Wainio said.
Both ports have seen their volumes hurt by the slowdown in the economy, especially construction in Florida, but Wainio was optimistic that infrastructure projects will help boost cargo such as steel and aggregate in the coming year.
President Obama is expected to visit Tampa later this week and he is widely expected to announce support to build a high-speed rail corridor to connect Tampa and Orlando.
Wainio said he would like to see a discussion at this week's AAPA meeting about rationalizing spending money on ports, feeling that ports are planning construction for facilities that will not receive the amount of cargo they anticipate even with the Panama Canal expansion.
'We live in a country where states do their own thing and within certain states counties do their own thing,' he said, including Florida's 14 ports, some 'which have hopes to develop their ports into something beyond what they are today and they don't want to accept limits.'
'The role of Washington is a question for everybody and I hope it is one that they talk about more in the next two days,' Wainio added. 'What role should Washington have in terms of strategic planning for transportation infrastructure in this country?” ' Chris Dupin