Port Manatee signs $30M deal

MANATEE — The giant check was not only symbolic for a $425,000 down payment Port Dolphin Energy will pay to Port Manatee, but also for the $30 million value of a contract approved Thursday.

The agreement the Manatee Port Authority board unanimously approved calls for Port Dolphin Energy leasing about 35 acres of port property and the right of way for a pipeline through the port.

This agreement continues the Port Authority’s commitment to creating jobs, board Chairman Larry Bustle said in a press release.

Port Dolphin Energy, a Delaware-based company, has been working on plan since 2007 to build a deep-water port about 28 miles off Anna Maria Island for ships transporting liquefied natural gas, or LNG.

The LNG would be converted to natural gas and piped under the Gulf of Mexico to Port Manatee, where the pipes will come ashore and the gas transmitted to markets throughout Florida.

German Castro, vice president of Port Dolphin Energy, said before he posed for pictures with the board members holding the huge check, that several concerns on the underwater location of the pipeline had to be worked out before reaching this point.

“We’re here today to recognize a long process,” Castro said.

The original route for the pipeline from the offshore port platform to Port Manatee went through the sand borrows Manatee County and Longboat Key were permitted to use for beach restoration.

With restrictions on how close to a pipeline sand can be dredged, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection permits would have been unusable.

After the meeting, Castro said it was through many meetings and working through the permitting process for the pipelines that the parties reach a satisfactory agreement.

He said Port Manatee was chosen after a long analysis process of possible sites.

“We knew it was going to be somewhere on the Gulf Coast,” Castro said, “and with Florida being a good market for natural gas we knew we found the right spot.”

Once Port Manatee was picked, one of the things that impressed Castro was the port authority board putting environmental concerns over the financial issues.

In the end, both the environment and the economics won out, he said.

The $425,000, to be paid within five days, is a down payment for the lease and license options, with another $375,000 to be paid by Sept. 30, with another $1.2 million when the final permits are issue.

After Port Dolphin Energy, which the Norwegian based shipping company Höegh LNG AS owns, exercise it options and begins construction, expected to begin in 2012, the port begins to collect fees and rent totaling about $15 million in the first five years.

Over the 20 years of the contract, the port will receive another $15 million, according to the agreement.

Port Manatee officials estimate the economic impact of the project to be more than $150 million in Manatee County.

Board member Joe McClash called the signing of the agreement a milestone.

“This means jobs,” McClash said. “It allows this economic engine (the port) to keep on moving.”

John Chappie, another board member, agreed and said the port was “here to create jobs, and it’s making it happen.”

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