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Published Oct. 17, 2013

News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE - Port Canaveral, Port Everglades and the Port of Tampa are in line to receive $35 million next year to expand their facilities through a state program for strategic port investments.

As part of an effort to position the state's 15 seaports as a single global shipping hub, Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday he will recommend that the Legislature allocate the money to the projects. The announcement came during an appearance at the American Association of Port Authorities convention in Orlando.

A little more than $10 million will be used to improve the container yard at the Port of Tampa, which has been trying for years to increase its share of the lucrative shipping container business. The Tampa port moved just 40,000 containers in 2011, compared with Miami's 900,000 the same year.

Scott said in a release that the funding will "enhance our ports' ability to move more goods, which will position Florida to play an even greater role in global trade."

Florida Ports Council president and CEO Doug Wheeler said the money "will further position Florida as the gateway to the Americas and beyond."

Scott's announcement came two days after the Florida Chamber of Commerce released a study highlighting the need to increase funding for ports, rail, airports and roads to retain the state's trade with the Caribbean and Latin America. The state's share of U.S. exports to the Caribbean and Latin America has dropped 4 percent over the past decade.

The study also pushes for Florida ports to work together against other ports along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts in an effort to capture sea traffic from Asia that has grown via the Suez Canal and that is expected to further increase as larger ships travel through a widened Panama Canal.

Scott and the Legislature have increased seaport funding from $117 million in 2011 to about $288 million this year through money set aside for specific port projects and bonding.

The increase includes a line of $35 million that was set aside in 2012 as a recurring fund called the Strategic Port Investment Initiative within the Florida Department of Transportation's work program.

In addition to the $10.4 million for Tampa's port, Port Canaveral gets $9.7 million to develop a container yard and Port Everglades gets $14.7 million to help lengthen the deepwater turn-around for cargo ships.

The legislative funding is in addition to money Scott has already floated from the DOT into the dredging at PortMiami - $75 million - and to the Jacksonville Port Authority - $36 million. The state remains hopeful that the federal government will repay those dollars.

In August, the Florida Ports Council announced plans for a study on the current and future policy and investments possible because of scenarios including the widening of the canal, the trend toward larger cargo ships, shifting logistics and the opening of markets in South America.