Large shipper threatens to leave because of inadequate bridge over Miami River
By Shannon Pettypiece
Inadequacies of the 79-year-old Fifth Street Bridge are causing the largest cargo shipper on the Miami River to consider moving from Miami, which could cripple river cargo traffic and throw thousands out of work.
"We've looked around," said Eddie Rodrigues, systems manager at Antillean Marine Shipping Corp. "It is on hold now, but relocating has been a real possibility."
Mr. Rodrigues said Antillean is considering moving to Jacksonville, Tampa or along the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama.
Strong currents, inadequate width between bridge pilings and the bridge's odd angle with the river prevent tugboats from navigating ships through the river for most of the day, delaying shipping companies on tight schedules, Mr. Rodrigues said.
The Florida Department of Transportation plans to redesign the bridge, but construction isn't expected until 2008 at the earliest, said Monica Diez, a project development engineer for the department.
Beau Payne, owner of tugboat company P&L Towing and Transportation, agreed the bridge causes too many delays. "Out of a 24-hour day, we've got maybe eight hours that we can go through that bridge, and each job takes two hours. Maybe if we get it just right, we can get two ships through there a day on the inbound."
Antillean employs more than 500 in Miami-Dade County and ships 1 million tons of cargo a year to the Caribbean. It owns several other companies, including a trucking company and a ship-repair company, and supports many other area businesses, said Fran Bohnsack, executive director of Miami River Marine Group.
She said thousands would lose jobs if Antillean left the area.
Mr. Payne said his company would follow Antillean because Antillean is P&L's main client. He said that would leave only one small tugboat company on the river, not enough to keep the river productive.
The loss of Antillean and P&L would devastate many of the companies' employees, who would find it difficult to find other jobs.
"Around here, there are a lot of guys loading ships, and a lot of these guys are foreigners or low-end employees," Mr. Payne said. "There are only so many places these people can get a job. It would be crippling to this whole community if we were to lose Antillean."
The drawbridge, at Fifth Street and Seventh Avenue, was built in 1924. In 1932 the Army Corps of Engineers said the bridge was illegally constructed but took no followup action.
Ships have struck the bridge several times. After a ship struck it in the 1990s it was closed for more than a year, said David Miller, managing director of Miami River Commission. It was closed for 10 months after it was hit in 2000.
"Every time a ship goes through there, the pilots are holding their breath," he said.
The value of the river's cargo is a bit more than one fourth that of the Port of Miami. In 2000, $4 billion in cargo traveled down the river, said Ms. Bohnsack. According to Seaports Transportation and Economic Development Council, $15 billion entered the Port of Miami in 2001.