PALMETTO -- Berth 12, a 12-year project to expand Port Manatee’s ability to serve large cargo ships, received three different kinds of attention Thursday from the authority that oversees the port.
The project, finished at the end of September, drew verbal tributes and celebratory tugboat toots during a midday ribbon-cutting ceremony that involved not only Port Manatee leaders but state and regional officials. Berth 12, which actually started in 1997 with Port Manatee’s purchase of more than 400 acres, was dredged over the summer to a depth of 41 feet. The work, first permitted in 1999, drastically improves the port’s ability to handle larger cargo ships, including many from the Panama Canal.
But before the party, the Port Manatee authority approved seeking bids for “phase 2” of Berth 12, which will expand it from 1,000 feet to almost 1,600 feet and double its container capacity.
And before it took that key step, the authority tangled over some legal issues that have arisen since June, when the project was delayed for about a month because of leaks in the massive pile of material dredged from the berth.
Authority member Joe McClash kicked off Thursday’s meeting with a push to the port’s attorneys for an estimate of costs for three expert witnesses enlisted to help with the port’s settlement talks with Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, the Illinois-based company that performed the dredging operation for Berth 12.
That dredging work was delayed by about a month when a leak was discovered at Piney Pointe, the site where material removed from the sea bottom was transported in order to prevent it from being released into the Gulf of Mexico. Attorney Hamilton “Chip” Rice, Jr., said he has held several mediation sessions with Great Lakes and needs to line up expert witnesses.
But McClash said he was uncomfortable with wording of an agenda item that called for the authority to agree to “unanticipated” and “undetermined” costs associated with the mediation efforts.
“There have to be parameters when spending the government’s money,” said McClash. He and Robin DiSabatino were the only authority members to vote against the item’s original wording. But port attorneys promised to provide an estimate of the expert witnesses’ costs in time for the next port authority meeting.
Later in the meeting, the authority approved $145,260 for CHTM Hill to prepare bid documents for additional work on Berth 12. Using $9 million in federal grants and $5 million in state grants, the port will expand Berth 12 by almost 600 feet and pave 15 acres to more than double the port’s container capacity.
When the additional work is completed, it will generate more than 1,000 high-paying jobs, according to authority Chair Larry Bustle.
Bustle was among several speakers who praised Berth 12’s completion during Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, which took place beneath a massive American flag that hung from one of the port’s two mobile harbor cranes. The cranes were bought to handle the larger cargo the port anticipates with the arrival of larger ships.
Other speakers talked about the complicated funding efforts needed to complete the project, and the collaboration required by all parties to protect the environment throughout the construction and dredging efforts. Authority members and others involved in the project received a heavy token of appreciation: bronzed dredging teeth from the California, the vessel which handled the dredging. The teeth weighed about 20 pounds apiece and were affixed to plaques.
Berth 12 actually welcomed its first ship, a 492-foot vessel carrying potash fertilizer, on Monday.
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.