Florida Gov. Rick Scott visited PortMiami Friday to see first-hand the specially outfitted vessel that is currently dredging the channel entrance to the port, a project made possible when Scott provided millions in state money for the endeavor.
A month after Scott withdrew Florida’s participation in the bullet train project in early 2011, he directed the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to amend its work plan to include $77 million so PortMiami could deepen its cargo harbor to receive the giant container ships that will cross the Panama Canal once its expansion is completed in 2015.
Later the state contribution grew to $112.5 to fund the $220 million dredging project, The county port’s contribution totals $108 million.
The dredging of the port’s shipping from 42 to 50 to 52 feet will enable the mega container vessels to dock at PortMiami and unload cargo containers. PortMiami is the only Florida port currently undergoing dredging to 50 feet, which is the required depth to accommodate the giant container ships.
Workers are now building a third set of locks at the Panama Canal and widening navigational channels in order to accommodate the giant container ships and maintain the canal’s competitiveness among shipping companies.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who visited Miami last week, said ports along the East Coast should follow PortMiami’s example and dredge their cargo harbors to 50 feet or become irrelevant.
“ PortMiami is expanding,” Martinelli said in Miami, “and a place like Miami will be greatly benefited because more than 30,000 people will benefit with new jobs with the expansion of this port, and this will lead to great benefits for the United States. All ports that do not deepen their harbors to 50 feet will disappear.”
On Friday, Scott got to see the dredging work up close. He was taken to see the dredging vessel Terrapin Island as it idled near the entrance channel to the cargo harbor across from the mansions of Fisher island.
The Terrapin Island dredge acts like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up loose rock and soft materials. At the end of next week, a larger dredging vessel, the Texas, is expected to arrive. It will be able to cut through rock.
Scott saw the Terrapin Island from a state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission boat. He wore a baseball cap that said Navy on the front and was accompanied on the tour by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, PortMiami Director Bill Johnson and FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad.
After the tour, Scott told reporters that he decided to allocate state money to the dredging project because PortMiami Johnson persuaded him that Florida’s future in the global economy rode on whether the port here could handle giant container ships.
“I want to first thank Bill Johnson,” Scott said. ”He told me the importance of the dredge project here and we made sure, with the support of the FDOT, that we would get this done.”
To Scott and local officials, the goal is to make PortMiami the first port of call on the East Coast for the mega cargo ships after they cross the Panama Canal.
“PortMiami, and the state of Florida, is giving them [the shipping firms] the reason to stop here at this port and this state,” said Johnson. “PortMiami offers efficiency, the best infrastructure of any port on the East Coast of the United States. It’s about time to market. It’s about saving money. That’s what it’s about and that’s why Miami will win.”
Miami Herald staff writer Mimi Whitefield contributed to this report.