PORT MANATEE -- More money to build warehouses, docks and other infrastructure at Florida ports would be available in the coming year through a funding increase approved by the state Legislature.
On Friday, the Legislature approved a measure that will increase the annual minimum statutory amount of Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development, or FSTED, funding from $15 million to $25 million each fiscal year. The money is set aside specifically for projects at Florida's 15 publicly owned ports.
Legislators delivered the measure on a 39-1 vote in the Senate and a 117-2 vote in the House. Individual ports and the Florida Ports Council had been lobbying for several years to have the funding amount increased.
The funding request now awaits Gov. Rick Scott's signature.
Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee, said FSTED money is an important tool in improving his port's facilities. The port has two current projects on the books that have been allocated $4.8 million in FSTED funds since 2011. That money is matched at a ratio of at least 50-50 by the port. FSTED funds applied to ship berth construction projects must be matched at a 75 percent level locally.
Buqueras said the port and its lobbyists have been pushing for the increase for three years. As a project funding vehicle, he said, FSTED funds encourage private funding for infrastructure projects, such as a new $24.6 million cold storage warehouse being planned at Port Manatee. Stevedoring company Logistech has pledged half of that amount. At present, $1.43 million in FSTED money has come to the port for the project.
Buqueras said the program rewards ports that pay their fair share for new construction projects. Raising a local share for infrastructure construction is something Port Manatee does well, he said.
"There's nothing out there we haven't applied for we haven't gotten or will in the future we won't get," Buqueras said of matching fund programs including FSTED.
The port has received FSTED money in four of the past five fiscal years. It is expecting the receipt of $2 million during the current fiscal year.
Port Tampa, Port Manatee's neighbor, has the same amount earmarked for 2015-2016, according to Florida Department of Transportation figures.
FSTED money is a factor at Port Tampa's Hooker's Point container terminal development and its East Port berth construction and cargo area, according to port spokesman Andy Fobes.
Allocations from the state come as the fund has money for them.
For projects that are approved for funding, the port signs an agreement with the state for the money. For larger projects, Buqueras said private partners such as Logistech can front more of the project cost, then get paid back as state money is disbursed.
The port has also received FSTED money for its berth rehabilitation and reconstruction program.
The vote to increase funding for the 26-year-old program was also welcomed by the ports council. The organization's CEO, Doug Wheeler, said the extra money will go toward "critical freight infrastructure." The council credits the funding with speeding the construction of port facilities to remain competitive with ports outside Florida.
Local senators and House members who voted for the FSTED increase include Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.