Activity at Port Manatee has picked up so much in the past few years that another berth and additional toll gates at the exit used by trucks may be coming in the near future.
In the first half of the fiscal year ending March 31, cargo tonnage was up 18.2 percent over the same period in 2017 to 4,495,733 tons, said Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee.
Aluminum imports — primarily from Argentina — were up 49.5 percent, lumber imports were up 34.6 percent, orange juice imports were up 40 percent, and petroleum imports were up 59.6 percent.
On Thursday, the Manatee County Port Authority approved a $204,100 agreement with Stantec Consulting Services for design, permitting and construction services to add two more exit points and kiosks on the north gate.
The authority also approved a $7,600 agreement with Universal Engineering Sciences to evaluate soil conditions to aid in foundation design and pavement recommendations.
The total project cost is $1,262,000, which would be funded 75 percent by FEMA and 25 percent by the port.
Port authority members also approved a $303,643 contract with RS&H Inc. for inspections of two of the port's 10 berths as part of a continuing rehabilitation project.
Port Manatee is achieving record numbers, Buqueras said, hinting that the port may need to look at either adding another berth or extending one to keep commerce flowing smoothly.
Robert Blazer, owner of the massive Your Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur, Ga., and of World Direct Shipping, talked to port authority members about his businesses.
Blazer's container ship "Queen Bee" and a chartered container ship, the "Falmouth," bring fresh produce from Mexico on a regular basis to his refrigerated warehouse at Port Manatee.
From there, boxes of produce are shipped to restaurants and supermarkets in Florida, the East Coast and the Midwest.
This week, the Falmouth unloaded cargo including bananas, plantains, papayas, water melons and malanga, a root vegetable.
Federal Marine Terminators, which is one of five companies providing stevedore services at Port Manatee, has invested $1.6 million in new equipment in recent years to unload produce imported by World Direct Shipping at Port Manatee, said Matt McPhail, vice president of sales and marketing for FMT.