Scott Heading to Panama to Talk up Florida Ports
Around the State
Gov. Rick Scott and his economic development team will begin a three-day trip to Panama Wednesday, with the express purpose of convincing Panamanians that Florida ports will be ready and able to take on the behemoth Panamax ships.
The self-titled "jobs governor" will be reaching out to the likes of Roberto Henriquez, minister of commerce and industry, and Alberto Vallarino Clement, minister of economy and finance. He'll also meet with Alberto Aleman Zubieta, administrator/CEO of the Panama Canal Authority and a handful of U.S. ambassadors in the country.
Scott announced the visit last Friday, while delivering the keynote address at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce Cornerstone Luncheon.
“Next week I’m going to Panama with your port director, Paul Anderson, and our focus is that we've got to make sure that this port is one of the ports that can handle the Panamax ships. We have to get the port dredged to 50 feet and figure out how to do that as quickly as we can,” said Scott.
Scott has high hopes for Florida's ports. Less than two weeks ago he announced that the Florida Department of Transportation now has the $77 million necessary to complete funding for the Port of Miami's dredging project. That project will allow the new Post-Panamax ships to deliver their cargo through Miami by the time the Panama Canal expansion project is complete in 2014.
“In this state, we should be the shipping capital for clearly the East Coast, if not the entire United States,” he told business leaders at the luncheon.
“What we have to do here is work with the Army Corps of Engineers to deal with the issue of Mile Point; focus day after day on solving problems so we can get this port in the same position as Miami's,” he said.
The Jacksonville port has a few more challenges to work through than Miami before it can handle the new, larger ships.
Mile Point refers to a navigational issue that restricts larger ships from calling at the port during the majority of the day. Swift tidal currents from where the St. Johns River meets the Intracoastal Waterway are to blame. After fixing that problem at an estimated cost of $40 million, the port authority would have to figure out how to pay for a dredging project to reach the necessary 50-foot depth.
Despite the challenges, the governor has enough confidence in the ports at Jacksonville and Miami to pitch Florida's shipping virtues to countries expected to play increasingly larger roles in the world economy. In fact, work on the Mile Point issue has already begun.
In Washington, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognize the potential for growth from Latin America. During a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., acknowledged the urgency of approving the Colombian Free-Trade Agreement, and its relationship to Panama.
"I want to add my comments to the chairman's comments," said Nelson. "I support the Colombia Free Trade Act. … This is good for our country and it's certainly good for my state because we have a great deal of trade both ways with Colombia. The same with Panama, as well."
Scott has made it clear he doesn't want Florida to miss out.
“I think one of our biggest opportunities is our ports and Jacksonville has a big opportunity,” the governor said.
Scott is scheduled to leave from Miami International Airport on a commercial flight at noon Wednesday. He is scheduled to return Friday evening.
Lane Wright may be reached at Lane@sunshinestatenews.com or 561-247-1063