Manatee County Port Authority Invests in Security to Upgrade Port

Port Manatee is preparing to start two major construction projects, one designed to improve security and the other expected to boost business.

Through a series of votes Thursday, the Manatee County Port Authority approved the re-construction of the port's Piney Point Road entrance to include a new security and access-control center, new scales and more room for truck traffic. The authority also approved an agreement with the state to partially cover the cost of extending a shipping channel to a new berth.

The projects are estimated to cost between $14.7 million and $17.7 million in all, said David McDonald, the port's executive director.

The authority accepted Halfacre Construction Co.'s $1.87 million bid to build the security center at the port's north gate. Authority members also hired Woodruff & Sons Inc. for nearly $796,000 to perform site work, and Professional Service Industries Inc. for more than $6,800 to test soils and construction materials.

The proposed center will feature more through-lanes and waiting room for trucks entering the port. The center also will be a test site for a statewide transportation-worker identification card program that uses digital fingerprints to verify identities.

A truck-service facility with such amenities as showers, hot food and an ATM is also planned. Project plans also call for re-aligning part of Piney Point Road to separate truck and automobile traffic.

Work is expected to begin next month and be completed by June, McDonald said. The state and federal governments are picking up 90 percent of the cost, with the port paying the rest.

The authority also approved a joint agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation for the channel-extension project. Under the agreement, the state and the port will split the $2.5 million estimated cost of the project's first phase.

Plans calls for extending the channel by 1,600 feet so ships can reach the recently constructed Berth 12 on the port's south side.

"That's really going to open up and expand the port's capacity," possibly by as much as 50 percent, McDonald said.

Port officials hope to start dredging in the first quarter of 2005, but that hinges on finding the money to cover the rest of the project's $12 million to $15 million estimated total cost. Port officials are optimistic they'll get another $3.75 million state grant next year, said Steve Tyndal, the port's director of trade development and special projects.

Also Thursday, the authority hired CH2M Hill for $60,000 to provide design and construction engineering services for the channel project.