Diaz-Balart in Miami Herald: PortMiami Gets a Financial Boost to Make it an Economic Powerhouse
Op-Ed: Mario Diaz-Balart
February 14, 2020
Our nation’s seaports are significant drivers of economic growth, supporting 31 million jobs and generating almost $5.4 trillion in economic activity. In Florida, we are lucky to have some of the best and busiest ports in the country. Our seaports support almost 900,000 jobs and contribute $117.6 billion in economic value to the state. Products from all over the world come through Florida’s ports before making it to the grocery stores or retail shops every one of us frequents.
PortMiami is recognized as the Global Gateway of the Americas. It contributes $43 billion annually to our local economy while supporting more than 334,500 jobs. More than a million containers of cargo come through PortMiami each year, much of it containing fruits, vegetables and flowers from South America. When they are brought to the United States, they require fumigation to ensure that the products are safe. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) charges a fee for this fumigation. The fee covers the costs for USDA to monitor the fumigation treatments.
Unfortunately, PortMiami has limited space and, consequently, usually fumigates in a trailer capable of holding only 20 pallets of commodity. In seaports with more land available, this fumigation is done all at once in warehouses capable of holding up to 2,400 pallets. Despite this vast discrepancy, in 2015 the USDA adopted the same fee for each individual treatment. That means that if import volumes were equal for Chilean grapes and Peruvian asparagus brought into Northeastern and Southeastern ports, the Southeast would pay $3.27 million compared to the Northeast paying only $21,868. Recognizing this issue and the impact it could have on PortMiami’s competitiveness, I knew I had to find a solution.
Since my time in the Florida Legislature, and now as a member of Congress, I have long fought for our state’s seaports. In Congress, I have the privilege of serving as ranking member, and previously as chairman, of the Transportation Subcommittee of Appropriations. Our seaports typically compete for funds under large infrastructure programs administered under the Department of Transportation. They compete among transit agencies, airports, road and bridge projects, multimodal projects and many other sectors of our transportation system nationwide, making it difficult for them to actually obtain funding.
That is why under the Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations bill, I created, for the first time ever, a dedicated pot of money specifically for seaports totaling $293 million. From this total, I set aside $93 million for the top 15 seaports in the country, with priority consideration given to ports in need of a fumigation facility, such as PortMiami.
Friday, because of this funding, we get to celebrate the award of $44 million to help construct a 100,000 square foot state-of-the-art fumigation facility that will ensure PortMiami remains competitive and levels the playing field with other ports in the Northeast. Port Director Juan Kuryla, working with Aviation Director Lester Sola, has come up with an innovative idea to construct the facility at Miami International Airport. This partnership shows how local leaders work jointly to advance Miami-Dade County’s priorities. This is how it’s supposed to work.
I commend and thank Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who has continuously recognized the value of investing in our community, for awarding this grant. She is a stalwart supporter of the nation’s ports, and her public service is a benefit to every American.
It is an honor to represent Southern Florida in Congress and to be in a position to get things done.