Tampa Port Reluctant to Impose Fees for Security

TAMPA -- The Tampa Port Authority probably won't adopt shipping fees proposed by a Florida seaports group to pay for escalating security costs.

The Florida Port Conference, which includes officials from the state's 13 deep-water ports, voted June 8 to adopt minimum security charges, including $1 per multiple-day cruise passenger, $2 per cargo container and higher docking and cargo fees.

But the Tampa Port Authority abstained from voting and will look at ways to reduce security costs before considering the fees, said port director Richard Wainio. Jacksonville port officials also abstained and Key West voted no.

"We didn't have time to analyze (the fees), and I'm not comfortable that it's the best way to go," Wainio said Tuesday.

Ports across the country are struggling to pay for security improvements required by the federal government since the 9/11 attacks.

The Department of Homeland Security last month announced nearly $141-million in new security grants.

While praising the move, a port trade group said the ports would need to spend $5.4-billion over 10 years to meet federal mandates based on Coast Guard estimates from 2002.

The Tampa Port Authority has received federal help paying for more than $25-million in capital expenses such as new gates, fences and video cameras since 9/11.

But the bill for employing and equipping extra security personnel falls almost entirely on the agency. This year, it will exceed $4.7-million -- 20 percent of the port authority's operating expenses, Wainio said.

Still, he wants to find ways to rein in those costs before imposing new fees on shippers, who pay for security improvements through general port fees. Ports are free to adopt the consortium's recommended fees, charge higher ones or ignore them.

Wainio told the port authority's board Tuesday the agency is well positioned to land state grants for maritime business projects.

New growth management legislation provides some $500-million for transportation improvements across Florida, he said. Two local projects top a wish list compiled by Florida ports.

They include a $7.5-million widening of Sparkman Channel to ensure the port's largest cruise ships can reach terminals in the Channel District and $9-million to rebuild a man-made island to store material dug up during the project. State money would cover 75 percent of the bill.

Carnival's Miracle has had to unload passengers at a cargo dock at least four times this year after harbor pilots decided conditions weren't safe for the 960-foot vessel to pass through a narrow stretch of the channel.

Work could begin on the widening as soon as this fall, Wainio said. But he warned that the projects will compete against highway, airport and maritime proposals from across the state. "It depends on a lot of ducks falling in line," Wainio said.