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Port Manatee signs alliance with Panama Canal


A new agreement means that Port Manatee may be moving into the big leagues.

The chiefs of the canal and the port
Port Manatee Executive Director David L. McDonald, right, and Panama Canal Administrator and CEO Alberto Aleman Zubieta sign an accord.

On Monday, the port's executive director, David L. McDonald, and the Panama Canal Authority's CEO Alberto Aleman agreed to a two-year strategic alliance, according to a port press release.

With the agreement, known as a Memorandum of Understand (MOU), the port and the canal will solicit shippers through marketing and the sharing of information, and work to promote both.

"The MOU with the Panama Canal Authority formalizes a relationship we have enjoyed for nearly 40 years and demonstrates the canal's confidence in Port Manatee's future as a container port," McDonald said. "In time, that confidence will result in thousands of regional jobs."


Two years ago, the canal authority began a $5.25 billion expansion project to double the canal's capacity with two new sets of locks and add improvements so the canal can handle much larger container ships. The project is expected to be finished in five years.

Port Manatee is the 10th port to sign an MOU with the Panama Canal Authority. Other ports with such deals are:

  • Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

  • Georgia Ports Authority

  • South Carolina State Ports Authority

  • Virginia Port Authority

  • Massport

  • Port of Miami

  • Port of Tampa

  • Port of Houston

  • Port of New Orleans

Port Manatee is the only nonestablished container port in the group, and the closest U.S. deepwater seaport to the Panama Canal.

Port officials have said the facility can be an economic engine for the area, and the port has put forward ambitious expansion plans.

Last year the Manatee County Port Authority and Manatee County government created the Port Manatee Encouragement Zone, 3,700 acres of privately held land at Port Manatee's front

gate, to make an intermodal distribution development opportunity. Local impact fees have been reduced or eliminated in the zone, based on the type of development and quality and number of jobs created.


A proposed connector road will provide access to the Encouragement Zone and I-75, the press release said, and the Florida Department of Transportation is working on a Project Design and Environment study to find the preferred alignment for the new road, which will connect with U.S. 41 at the port's entrance.


And two weeks ago, the state Legislature approved a bill to extend Port Manatee's exemption from rules covering Developments of Regional Impact, meaning projects are spared a long process of permitting.


The next plan for the port is a $750 million project to increase its container capacity to levels approaching 1 million per year.


"In anticipation of this opportunity with the (Panama Canal Authority), Port Manatee has approached

its master planning process in an accretive way, one step at a time," McDonald said in the press release. "In the last decade, we've increased the port's capacity by 50 percent at a cost of $150 million."


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