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Federal funds boost Port Manatee; could impact South Hillsborough County

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Closest deep water port to the Panama Canal, the Port of Manatee (above) on the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of Tampa Bay is preparing for a future focused on containerized shipping. Dredging to create Berth 12 (lower left, near orange crane), the port’s new facility designed to handle “Panamax” freighters, is to begin in February. And a 52-acre container terminal is planned adjacent to the new berth (grassy area, lower center). The port has been awarded nearly $10 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It also is anticipating an increase in tug boat and barge traffic across the Gulf.



PORT MANATEE – Anticipating increased demand for containerized shipping services, this centrally located commercial Florida port is poised for multi-faceted development on three fronts – with the help of nearly $10 million in federal grants.

And net results for the region, including Hillsborough’s South County, could be both an increase in jobs and a decrease in truck traffic.

The preparations include deepening and extending the port’s Berth 12, a potentially doubled barge shipping cycle across the Gulf of Mexico and taking a 52-acre container terminal from planning to reality. Port Manatee is the deepwater port located closest to the expanding Panama Canal. Some of its preparation is underway, some is getting ready and some is pending go-ahead from the federal agency holding the purse strings.

Dredging Berth 12 to a depth of 41 feet is expected to begin in February, Jill VanderPol, port spokesperson, said this week. It is estimated that before the dredging work is completed, about 1.1 million cubic yards of excavated material will be removed to a certified uplands disposal site. The dredging project is expected to be completed, including certifications, in August, 2011, she added.

`The Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. was awarded the contract for the work in July after a rebidding process which shaved $2.3 million or 14 percent off the original bid. The bid accepted by the Manatee County Port Authority is for $14.8 million. The project is part of the port’s 11-year, $200 million expansion plan.

When finished, Port Manatee’s Berth 12, with a depth of 41 feet and lengthened to 1,600 feet, will accommodate the class of 965-foot-long, ocean-going freighters known as “Panamax,” VanderPol said. A larger class of freighter, drawing about 50 feet and known as “post-Panamax,” also sails the world’s oceans, she noted, but no Florida port currently has the depth to handle them.

Eight million Floridians live within two hours of Port Manatee, making container deliveries convenient and efficient.
While the dredging project is ongoing, Port Manatee also is looking ahead to a potential doubling in barge traffic across the gulf – encouraged by a substantial grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Florida port, along with the Port of Brownsville, Texas, with which it consistently does business, was awarded a grant totaling $3.34 million in marine highway funds in September by the maritime administration in the federal agency.

Of this total, Port Manatee received $750,000 now earmarked for construction of two new barge ramps along with stackers, VanderPol said. The remaining $2.6 million went to the Texas port where it also is to be applied to two new barge ramps, as well as to the purchase of another barge and tug boat.

Adding a second barge/tug combo to the container shipping route between Port Manatee and Brownsville can potentially double the shipping capacity because it can effectively cut the sailing cycle from 10 to five days, she noted.

Longer range effects of this increase in container shipping capacity are reductions in diesel fuel use by overland trucks and in highway miles traveled by the trucks each year. SeaBridge Freight, headquartered at Port Manatee and operator of the cross-gulf container route, estimates that the existing single tug/barge service saves 70,000 gallons of truck fuel with each voyage and annually eliminates about 18 million truck miles along the I-10 corridor, VanderPol said. As container shipping across the gulf increases, the truck fuel and truck miles savings figures are expected to go up too, she indicated.

The port spokeswoman could not pinpoint when the second tug/barge combination would go into service but suggested the number of added gulf crossings would match the demands for service.

Port Manatee houses two Gottwald mobile harbor container cranes. These multi-purpose cranes handle containers and general cargo with a lifting capacity of 100 tons at 80 feet and a read of 13-containers wide.
The third piece in the port’s planning for containerized shipping services is a 52-acre container terminal adjacent to Berth 12. The site is unrelated to the disputed Inland Ports proposed container terminal once planned near U.S. 41. VanderPol said she expects the new terminal to be constructed in two phases – the first a 32-acre project followed by development of the last 20 acres.

However, taking the terminal from planning to reality presently depends on specific information about use of another multi-million dollar grant to the port from the maritime administration. The $9 million, being made available to the port under the federal agency’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Program, also known as the TIGER II Discretionary Grant Program, has been awarded but any specific restrictions on its use has not yet been received, VanderPol said.

As soon as that information is at hand, she concluded, the port will begin applying the funds wherever appropriate as it continues its focus on container shipping services.

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson

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