MIAMI (CBS4) -The Port of Miami believes it can move our region to new economic and business heights if it gets the money to dredge to new depths. That, in a nutshell, is the battle port backers are waging in Washington, D.C.
The plan is to position the port so that it can handle the super post Panamax sized cargo ships that will start moving through the expanded Panama Canal in 2014. To do that the cargo shipping channel at the Port of Miami must be dredged from its current 42 foot depth to a new 50 foot depth. Early estimates suggest that would allow a doubling of cargo volume in the decade to come.
Port of Miami director Bill Johnson said, “Fifty feet represents billions of dollars worth of additional international trade through the Port of Miami, to this community, the state, the nation. It represents tens of thousands of new, high paying jobs.”
That sounds good to cargo crane operator Al Mastracchio. He told CBS4’s Michael Williams, “We could use more jobs over here. We could use more business at the port.”
Here is the catch. The dredge project proposal will cost an estimated $150 million and $75 million of that price tag is being sought in federal money. But the port and Florida’s congressional delegation must navigate around the growing debate on spending and federal earmarks if they have any hope of securing that federal money.
Johnson says the process is frustrating at times especially but he’s continuing the funding fight at full tilt. He said, “Geographically (we are) the first major American port north from the expanded Panama Canal. It is a homerun. What is essential is moving past statements of, ‘well it makes sense we want to make it happen’, we have to make it happen.”
If the port’s deep dredging project does not come off the drawing boards Johnson and others say those extra big cargo ships will go to other destinations, closing the door on expanded shipping, railway and warehousing jobs in South Florida.
The White House budget is due out next month. Then the Port of Miami will have a better gauge on whether its bid will stay afloat in the budget battles ahead.