PANAMA CITY BEACH — With seaport leaders still waiting for the arrival of $250 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus money, the powerful head of the Florida House budget committee said Wednesday, “I wish we could have done more” for the port industry, which lost billions of dollars because of the pandemic.
House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, also implored port officials to lobby their local representatives about pumping more money into infrastructure during the 2022 legislative session so Florida doesn’t “lose out” to ports in Alabama and Georgia.
“We need to continue, especially for our North Florida ports like Jacksonville and Panama City, to make investments to compete with ports, like I talked about, in Alabama, in Georgia,” Trumbull said during a luncheon speech at the Florida Ports Council annual board meeting at the Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort.
“We are focused on having a world-class reputation as the biggest, most modern, most secure and easiest to access for all the southeastern United States,” Trumbull continued. “Understand, we have a long way to go if we don’t set this as our goal.”
With House and Senate committees preparing to start meeting in September in advance of the legislative session, Trumbull is heading into his final year as budget chairman.
Jonathan Daniels, chief executive officer of Port Everglades and chairman of the Florida Ports Council, said a goal could be to keep money from going into “redundant” uses at ports that are within similar regions.
Daniels said each port may be better at certain lines of business than others, such as Port Everglades handling petroleum and energy-based products for Southeast Florida, with a $184 million project in the works to expand those facilities.
“We’re hoping at some point to see some state funds come in to be able to help to bolster that, and that’s to support the economy of South Florida as a whole, not just Broward County, not just Miami-Dade and Palm Beach,” Daniels said. “I think we found out during the Colonial Pipeline disaster, while the state was impacted in the northern part, South Florida was certainly made that much better just because of the fact that we had that type of infrastructure development, and we’re going to continue to develop that infrastructure.”
In May, Colonial Pipeline was hit by a ransomware attack that resulted in the line being shuttered and fuel shortages in the Southeast.
A report released in July by the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council estimated waterborne trade at the state’s seaports fell 16.1 percent last year because of the pandemic, a $14.1 billion hit.
Trumbull’s comments came as port officials await directions on using the $250 million in federal stimulus money, which was included in this year’s state budget. The federal government has not delivered the money.
The money, part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden in March, is expected to go primarily to the largest ports. Port Everglades, for example, is slated to get $58.26 million.
Port Canaveral is in line for $72.2 million; PortMiami, $66.9 million: Port Tampa Bay, $20.1 million; JaxPort in Jacksonville, $13.7 million; Port of Key West, $5 million; Port Manatee, $4.89 million; and Port of Palm Beach, $4 million.
Port Fernandina, Port of Fort Pierce, Port Panama City, Port Pensacola, Port of Port St. Joe and Port St. Pete are each slated to receive $806,772.
Daniels said Port Everglades lost an estimated $92 million because of the pandemic. But he said one positive from the pandemic has been a “level of cooperation” among port officials.
“A lot of other projects were kind of put on the chopping block for a period of time,” Daniels said. “Luckily, ours were funded already. So, we were able to move forward. But we’ve seen a lot of stale movement. Now we get the opportunity to come out of that and really set the stage for growth in Florida’s ports.”
Port officials are also watching a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill before Congress that includes an additional $42 billion for ports and airports, along with $110 billion for roads and bridges and $66 billion for rail.