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Shipping has buoyant future, port boss says

More than 50-million tons of cargo moved over docks in the year that ended Sept. 30.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published December 13, 2005


TAMPA - Port director Richard Wainio pledged Monday to make sure the port's maritime businesses have enough waterfront land and facilities to grow and thrive.

Some port tenants have criticized the Tampa Port Authority for cutting deals to move traditional shipping businesses off publicly owned waterfront to make room for real estate development.

But Wainio told a crowd of about 200 at the annual state of the port address Monday that the port authority is spending millions of dollars on new facilities and working with other government agencies to secure land on deep water for the industry's use.

The authority has "taken steps to ensure land and facilities are available to serve today's demand ... and to position us to efficiently handle future growth," he said. "We are absolutely committed to support and grow the Tampa maritime industry."

During the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, the port authority will spend up to $57-million to bolster the industry. He pointed to the purchase of 39 acres on East Bay and projects to widen Sparkman Channel and build new warehouses and berths.

More than 50-million tons of cargo moved over public and private docks in the year that ended Sept. 30, up 3 percent over the previous year and the most since 1999.

Petroleum shipped into Tampa, mostly gasoline and jet fuel, is the single largest commodity, making up 38 percent of the port's total tonnage. Phosphate and fertilizer are on the decline but remained close behind with 37 percent.

Wainio also touted growth of the cruise business. After two years of flat numbers, the port projects that nearly 450,000 passengers will take cruises from Tampa this year, up about 20 percent from fiscal 2004. That should jump to 500,000 by 2008.

One drag on the port has been the cost of security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a state law aimed at stopping drug smugglers.

The port authority has spent more than $40-million on new fences, lighting, camera and other equipment. Security personnel costs are eating up 20 percent of the agency's operating budget and will grow, Wainio said.

While the port is safer, he said, the port authority and tenants believe some requirements from state agencies are too strict.

Businesses at the Channelside entertainment complex, for example, now must pay for criminal background checks on employees even if they don't enter restricted areas at the docks.

Wainio said his agency and maritime trade groups "are working together to seek relief." They also are enlisting support from political leaders, he added, without being specific.

--Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or 813 226-3384.

[Last modified December 13, 2005, 01:30:24]


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