PALMETTO – Port Manatee officials are encouraged that the Obama administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2015 includes full federal funding for the first study phase of deepening the federal channel and harbor area of Port Manatee, which is regarded as the closest U.S. deepwater seaport to the expanding Panama Canal.
Manatee Harbor, near the Gulf of Mexico entrance to Tampa Bay, is targeted for one of just three new deep-draft navigation studies nationwide recommended for fiscal 2015 funding in the budget proposal released March 4 by President Obama, according to Dave Sanford, Port Manatee’s deputy executive director.
“Reaching our target harbor depth of 45 feet should enable us to accommodate the majority of vessels transiting the expanded Panama Canal,” said Sanford, who is intimately familiar with such projects, having served in several senior executive capacities with the Corps of Engineers and as director of navigation policy and legislation at the American Association of Port Authorities prior to joining Port Manatee’s executive staff in August 2013.
While the timetable for harbor projects that undergo study during the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2014, would call for completion of deepening after the scheduled 2015 opening of the expanded Panama Canal, Port Manatee and its users nonetheless stand to reap significant benefits from a deeper harbor for decades to come.
The Obama administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2015 includes $100,000 for the reconnaissance study for deepening Manatee Harbor, which presently has a 40-foot depth. The funding would be sufficient to pay for the study entirely with federal dollars, without local expense.
In announcing the Corps of Engineers budget proposal, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, commented, “This is a performance-based budget that funds the construction of projects that provide the greatest returns on the nation’s civil works investments for the economy, environment and public safety. The budget continues to reflect the tough choices necessary to put the country on a fiscally sustainable path.”
Port Manatee’s executive director, Carlos Buqueras, said he is glad to see the federal government’s recognition of the Manatee Harbor project as a top priority.
“With the deeper harbor, Port Manatee will be able to provide existing and new customers with greater economies of scale and overall transportation savings,” Buqueras said. “We see the deeper harbor as a key element in Port Manatee developing and maintaining the role of the preferred port on Tampa Bay and one of America’s premier seaports for generations to come.”
Port Manatee is a multipurpose deepwater seaport near the entrance to Tampa Bay that serves bulk, breakbulk, container, heavylift, project and general cargo customers. The port generates more than $2.3 billion in annual economic impact for the local community, while supporting more than 24,000 jobs regionally, without the benefit of ad-valorem taxes.