Seaport restructuring fees in wake of price cuts by Broward's Port Everglades
By Paola Iuspa
Even if signed, a non-compete agreement among Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties' economic development agencies will not solve challenges for business between the ports.
The Broward Alliance, Miami-Dade's Beacon Council and the Development Board of Palm Beach County are still trying to agree on a tri-county pact, pending for more than a year, that is intended to reduce motivation for the agencies to lure companies from one part of South Florida to another.
But in the meantime, Port of Miami officials said they are being forced to restructure their fees to avoid losing businesses to Broward's Port Everglades. Broward officials recently voted to reduce fees for docking, gates and renting cranes to make their port more competitive.
Port of Miami Director Charles Towsley said cutting fees to entice companies from one port to the other would end up hurting both. But reducing fees seems to be the only alternative to secure port tenants, Khalid Salahuddin, Miami's deputy port director, said Tuesday.
"We are in the process of reviewing our fees along with our port operators' to become more competitive," he said. "We will do any adjustments necessary to keep our tenants."
Some operators at Miami's seaport said they were unaware of officials' intentions to modify fees but said they would be willing to work with them to make the port more competitive.
Christopher Morton, vice president of P&O Ports Florida, said his company would pass any savings on to customers if the port decided to reduce his company's fees.
While there is plenty of business out there for South Florida ports, Port Everglades officials seemed to have chosen to go after the Port of Miami's businesses to expand its operation, said Mr. Morton, also vice president of Port of Miami Terminal Operating Co., which operates the only multi-user container facility at the port.
Stephen Harrington, president of South Stevedoring Inc., which operates a terminal at Broward's port, this month praised Port Everglades and that county's officials for recent decisions making port fees more competitive with the Port of Miami and others along the East Coast.
"Our superior service and competitive pricing are tremendously attractive to high-volume cargo carriers," he has said. "We are continuing to negotiate with several major lines."
James Tarlton, Broward Alliance president and CEO, said even if the tri-county agreement is signed, it would not have any authority over the three ports and the way they do business.
Palm Beach and Miami-Dade last year signed an agreement to bar counties from offering tax breaks as an incentive to entice companies from one county to the other. But Broward has not yet signed.
Frank Nero, Beacon Council president and CEO, said Broward disagreed with some legal terms in the document. However, he said, Broward a year ago stopped providing economic incentives to attract companies already established in either of the other two counties.
"They stopped that practice," Mr. Nero said. "That is more important than a signed piece of paper."
Mr. Tarlton, hired by the alliance after discussion of the non-compete pact began, said the Broward Alliance supports the agreement and he hopes to resolve the issue soon.
"The three agencies will be meeting in early April to get this issue behind us," he said.
But any kind of non-compete agreement for the seaports would have to be worked out by county commissioners, who oversee the individual sites, Mr. Nero said Monday.
"The port concern is serious," he said. "It is a regional issue and the county commissions would need to solve this problem."
This month, terminal operator South Stevedoring lured from Miami a group of five cargo companies from Miami. The conglomerate, Americas Service, ships containers to South America and the East Coast, according to Port Everglades officials.
Mike Powers, a spokesman with South Stevedoring, said his company was appealing to major shipping lines because of a new infrastructure with a computerized security system that allows cargo to move in and out of the terminal more quickly.
In addition to the recent competitive pricing, Ken Krauter, director of Port Everglades, said Tuesday that Broward's advantages include less vehicular congestion surrounding the seaport, better access and connectivity to interstate highways, nearby rail access and additional container yard capacity.