After years of discussions and plans to widen and deepen Port Everglades in expectation of attracting larger cruise vessels, bigger cargo vessels, and more jobs starting in 2015, when a widened Panama Canal brings an anticipated increase of shipping business to South Florida, it appears Port Everglades will receive zero federal funding.
Congress is expected to pass a bill for water projects within the next 45 days with PortMiami, Port of Jacksonville, and Port Canaveral scheduled to receive approximately $150 million under the bill to help expand cargo and cruise traffic.
PortMiami is already in the process of dredging to deepen its port waterways and is scheduled to receive approximately $92 million. The Port of Jacksonville is scheduled to receive approximately $28 million to deepen its port waterways. Port Canaveral is scheduled to receive approximately 29 million for dredging to widen and deepen its port and using the sandy sediment to fortify nearby beaches.
The Port of Palm Beach is not seeking any federal money, but its officials lobbied with officials from Florida’s 15 ports for federal dredging funding in hopes of getting some of the expected spillover business when more and larger vessels pass through the widened Panama Canal in 2015.
Why is Port Everglades not scheduled to receive any federal money? The answer lies in the surrounding ecosystem. Coral beds and seagrass lie beneath the channel near the entrance to the port; mangroves line its shore. After 17 years of study, the Army Corps of Engineers and National Marine Fisheries Service are still arguing about how to mitigate the environmental damage from dredging, including replacement of the disrupted coral, seagrass and mangroves.
Steven Cernak, port director for Port Everglades believes the environmental issues can be resolved in time to have the project started next year. He has said, “It’s a great economic opportunity. But we have to balance the environmental interest with the economic interests.” Cernak indicated widening and deepening the port waterways would result in projections of 5,862 short-term construction jobs, $238 million in personal income, $22 million in state and local tax revenue, 1,491 permanent new local jobs, and 29,273 spinoff jobs that may be created statewide.
Governor, Rick Scott and Florida members of Congress are pushing to amend the bill to include Port Everglades dredging if the Army Corps of Engineers clears it for construction within a year of enactment.
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