Florida Gov. Rick Scott digs into Port of Miami dredging in Washington, Martinez at home
By Zachary S. Fagenson and Ashley Hopkins
As newly minted Miami-Dade commission Chair Joe Martinez said he's putting deep dredging at the Port of Miami atop his agenda, Gov. Rick Scott now says he's in talks with the federal government to secure its $75 million piece of the project.
Gov. Scott, in Miami on Monday for a meeting with European consuls general, seemed to have warmed up to the plan, though he's long opposed state or federal earmarks and last month said he would study the project after a visit to the port.
"We need to make sure we have the ports to support that traffic," he said of the increased loads expected to come through a revamped Panama Canal. "I've talked to [US Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood about support for that project."
Meanwhile, the county is also working to secure money for dredging the port channel to a 50-foot depth. The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has added the dredging to its state legislative package, and commission chair Martinez plans to work to get the item on the president's agenda.
"One of our goals is to work and get the dredging project into the president's budget," Mr. Martinez said. "That is extremely crucial.… Whoever we have that we know that has a contact with the administration, whether you play basketball with the president or can sit down and have a beer with him, we need to be able to reach out and make sure that's included because that will help our port tremendously."
Officials are hustling to secure $75 million in matching federal funds so the dredge's last scoop would come as the Panama Canal reopened in 2014 so it can accommodate the new, post-Panamax class ships that will be coming through the revamped canal.
The canal, once finished, will allow ships carrying up to 13,000 20-foot equivalent units — an industry unit of measurement based on the 20-foot containers ships carry — to pass through.
Currently, the canal allows only ships carrying up to 5,000 units to pass.
Mr. Martinez is pushing the dredging to bring jobs to Miami-Dade. While he said he doesn't trust port estimates that the project could create 33,000 positions, he said that in this tough economy legislative officials must do all they can to promote job growth.
"I don't believe it's going to create 33,000 jobs, but even if it creates 3,000 jobs, it's 3,000 we did not have," he said.
Although the dredging project remains a legislative priority for Mr. Martinez, he said he wanted to see how federal committees are set up before planning his next move. As members of Congress are attempting to ban earmarks that allot funding to specific initiatives, which the port hoped to secure to further fund the project, Miami-Dade may be facing a long legislative push.
"The dredging is a good thing," Mr. Martinez said. "I will fight for it."
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