The Port of Palm Beach broke ground July 21 on construction of a $10.4 million mini-slip at its southernmost berth that could eventually serve as a base for cargo service to Cuba.
Known as Berth 17, the expansion and infrastructure project at the port in Riviera Beach, Florida, is expected to be completed by next July.
"We are positioning this berth for a multitude of uses, including rail barge service to the entire Caribbean, which now potentially includes Cuba," said the port's executive director, Manuel Almira, on July 22.
Almira added that small vessels with roll-on and roll-off ramps for cargo will be able to use the berth, which is also being considered for possible railroad/barge service to Cuba. The port is in discussions with railroad companies.
The project includes the demolition and removal of the existing bulkhead, and 376 feet of seawall construction along with utility, drainage and pavement improvements.
"The construction of this mini-slip will allow the port to significantly diversify its operational profile and revenue stream, adding space for another user to operate at the port 365 days a year," said Port of Palm Beach Chairman Wayne Richards. "Over the last 12 months, the port saw over $5 billion worth of imported and exported product move through its piers. By continuously investing in infrastructure expansion and improvements such as Berth 17, the port enables local businesses the opportunity to increase their capacities and revenues."
In 1957, the port was the nation's top port for cargo to and from Cuba, and Almira believes that could happen once again.
"We are taking an area of the port that previously had little use and making it into a very productive area," Almira said.
The berth's expansion is projected to produce an additional volume of approximately 14,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, of cargo, valued at approximately $8.8 million a year during the first year, Almira said.
The contract was awarded to LM Heavy Civil Construction. The firm headquartered in Quincy, Massachusetts, also has offices in Pompano Beach.
On July 21, during the port's commission meeting, Almira said the port has received a $1 million security grant from the Department of Homeland Security. It is the highest grant awarded to any port authority, city, sheriff's office or police department in Florida.
The port will be required to contribute $250,000 and is awaiting the award letter from the federal government about which portions of the grant request were approved, which will determine how the funds will be spent.
The 156-acre port is the fourth busiest container port of Florida's 14 deep-water ports. It also handles diesel fuel, molasses, sugar, liquid asphalt and other bulk commodities, with 80% of its cargo consisting of exports.