The Port of Palm Beach is working to secure revenue to fund capital improvements to maintain and expand its facility. The nearly 100-year-old port, based in Riviera Beach, Fla., is renovating its sheet piles to keep the berth at bay while looking to update infrastructure and add markets.
The port was chartered in 1915 and is located 80 miles north of Miami and 135 miles south of Port Canaveral. Ship entrance is through an inlet channel 400 feet wide with no aerial obstructions. The Port of Palm Beach is an independent special taxing district with statutory authority to levy ad valorem mileage tax, but its Board of Commissioners has not done so since 1975. The port operates on revenue earned by the tenants that conduct business there.
Port of Palm Beach is ranked one of the top-20 ports in the United States. The ranking is justified because of its movement of 250,000 20-foot equivalent units in 2013. “We are the most efficient port when you measure TEUs per acre,” says Executive Director Manuel Almira. “We take up a relatively small amount of real estate, 162 acres.
Almira and his staff are continuously working to secure funds for expansions and improvements to maintain the current businesses that call on the port, while also looking to market the potential new business in the industry.
The port is in the middle of a $26 million restoration of Slip 3, which includes replacing the sheet pile to shore up the perimeter of the slip while adding two roll-on/roll-off ramps. “The sheet piles were original from the slip’s development in 1954 and desperately needed to be replaced,” Almira explains. ”The infrastructure improvement needed to be done to keep the slip operational for the businesses that use the slip, including the sugar and molasses exportation, which is responsible for hundreds of jobs in our community.”
To secure funding for this project, Port of Palm Beach partnered with the state of Florida and its DOT to get a grant of about $20 million. The port’s portion is about $6 million. “Without it, I think we would really have been challenged,” he adds.
The port is also actively working to secure federal funding for a dredging project in the areas around the port. Ship pilots have expressed three major navigational challenges when assisting vessels. The first challenge is the entry into the Lake Worth Inlet, which is about 400 feet wide, and pilots would like to see that become wider because the near-shore current pushes the ships south and forces them to enter at an angle. As soon as the ship passes the entry channel, it slows to make a dramatic left just as the channel narrows from 400 feet to 300 feet.
The third area that the port would like to address is a shallow area in the turning basin adjacent to the cruise ship berth that complicates the cruise ships departure and impacts other port operations.
“Those changes will enhance the navigational safety and we are working with the Army Corps of Engineers on this,” he adds. “The entire dredging project cost is estimated at somewhere around $80 million, but [would] be a tremendous assistance to the pilots to maintain the safety of the vessels and the areas around the port and allow us to attract bulk ships with a deeper draft to increase their storage capacity and therefore also increase their efficiency.”
Port of Palm Beach is not alone in its challenge to fund maintenance and expansion plans. “Ports worldwide are always faced with an enormous challenge because ports are capital-intensive,” Almira says. “Any major capital improvement requires a lot of money.”