Inland port not dead, but Port of Palm Beach wants project in the county

The Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach is shown here.

Remember the inland port? If you thought the much-touted idea that promised thousands of jobs  was dead, think again.

The proposal for a cargo distribution center dubbed an  “inland port” in Palm Beach County received lot of attention for years, and the Port of Palm Beach spent roughly $1 million on the proposal.

An 850-acre site owned by Florida Crystals Corp. was to be a distribution center to transfer cargo that would be an economic engine for the job-poor Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay areas. That hasn’t happened.

Now the players and locations have shifted  outside of Palm Beach County,  and the port staff and executive director should be allowed to offer support and advice,   the port’s director of planning Carl Baker told the port commission Wednesday.

Martin County, which is in the port’s foreign trade zone,  is working to develop an inland port on 100 acres in Indiantown. That project is being led by Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding, Baker said.

West of Palm Beach County, the Airglades International Airport management team has submitted a proposal to the Hendry County Board of Commissioners. It’s looking to develop the airport west of Clewiston into a cold storage receiving area for perishable  fruits and flowers from Colombia and other countries.

Fred Ford, CEO and president of Airglades International Airport,  said Thursday that plans call for the operation to initially receive 10 flights a day of  perishable cargo such as seafood from Chile and Peru. The products would then be trucked to their destinations.

“Eighty percent of the perishable cargo comes into Miami,” Ford said.

The perishables industry is running out of space in Miami, and there’s a lot of traffic congestion when trucks leave there. Transporting products from Clewiston instead  of Miami would cut 200 miles off each round trip, Ford said.

The Hendry County project is going through the due diligence and approval process, and site preparation is expected to begin in 2018, Ford said. The air cargo operation and other businesses which are indicated they are considering relocating could result in about 1,000 jobs.

All five port commissioners said Wednesday that they prefer to support inland port development efforts in Palm Beach County, especially when jobs are needed in the Glades.

“We are all for an inland port, no matter who does it,” Commission Chairman Blair Ciklin said. “We would love to see it stay in Palm Beach County.”

“Our days of leading the charge are over. We are just sitting back and helping anyone willing to do something,” Ciklin said. “We put in a million bucks of our money hoping something would happen out there. To this day, we are still hoping.”

Commissioner Katherine Waldron said that while she was in Tallahassee recently, she met with mayors of the Glades communities who said they are very interested in having the project there.

Waldron said there’s an opportunity to push the project to the Glades and it would be a shame not to do that.

Commissioner Wayne Richards agreed, saying, “If the port is assisting, damn it, it had better be for the Glades.”

Commissioners asked about the status of the project Florida Crystals had proposed and the port selected in 2009.

“Florida Crystals isn’t answering their phone or their emails,” Baker said.

Florida Crystals’ spokeswoman Marianne Martinez told the Palm Beach Post Friday, “We continue to monitor the cargo volume in South Florida to see when the demand might be right for an Inland Logistics Center in Palm Beach County.  Because the Panama Canal project has not proceeded on its original timeline, the demand has not yet presented itself locally.”





Port of Palm Beach to conduct massive security training exercises Monday

The Port of Palm Beach plans to conduct Operation Guardian on Monday.

If you’re driving by the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach on Monday and notice a lot of commotion, such as protesters,  hundreds of law enforcement personnel, and maybe even what appears to be a bus being hijacked, fear not.

It’s only an exercise.  South Florida’s Regional Domestic Security Task Force Operation Guardian plans to conduct a full day of training, safety and security exercises at the port from 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The Maritime Transportation Security Act requires every seaport to conduct full-scale security exercises every 18 months and drills once every 90 days.

By conducting Operation Guardian, the port strengthens its resolve in upholding its mission to prevent, deter, respond and recover from acts of terror or aggression, while giving law enforcement the opportunity for complex and rigorous missions, port officials said.

The eight agencies participating are the Department of Homeland Security, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Riviera Beach Police Department, West Palm Beach Police Department, Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Miami-Dade Police Department and Miami Police Department.

“Operation Guardian is a splendid example of eight agencies working alongside each other to enhance the security of our port,” said Manuel Almira, the port’s executive director. “These exercises will reflect the best possible training effort to secure our port facilities.”

In addition to law enforcement personnel, 120 actors will be on-site to assist in executing the various scenarios. The agencies will conduct hostage situations and active shooter sequences in the Maritime Office Building.

Actors depicting a protest will be staged in front of the Maritime Office Complex along the cruise terminal entrance.  Additional training scenes, such as an assault on a vessel and a hijacking of a city bus, are also planned.

Port Commissioner Katherine Waldron has volunteered to pose as a hostage during one of the assault exercises in the Marine Office Building.

The primary staging area for specialty vehicles will be the Jim Barry Light Harbor Park, 1800 Broadway, Riviera Beach. Aircraft and boats are also expected.

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s ship, Grand celebration, will not be docked at the port during the exercises on Monday.


Gov. Scott includes “No Cuba trade” statement in budget released Tuesday

Crowley has been shipping goods to Cuba from Florida since 2001.
Crowley has been shipping goods to Cuba from Florida since 2001.

Gov. Rick Scott made it perfectly clear last week that any Florida port that signed a trade pact with Cuba, run by brutal dictator Raul Castro,  would not receive state funds for improvements.

A delegation from Cuba visited the Port of Palm Beach on Friday, but a memorandum of understanding was not signed due to the governor’s statements.

Now Scott has taken the stance a step further. His proposed 2017-18 $83.5 billion  state budget  released Tuesday says $176 million designated for port infrastructure projects cannot go to any port that expands trade with Cuba.

None of the funds may go to projects “that result in the expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship because of their continued human rights abuses,” the budget states.

Since 2011 Scott has overseen the investment of $1.2 billion in port infrastructure investments support.

While businesses based at the Port of Palm Beach do not trade directly with Cuba, Crowley Maritime Corp. transports goods from Port Everglades  to Cuba, and has 16 for years.

“Crowley is authorized to ship licensed cargo to Cuba. Currently, we are sailing to Havana, Cuba from Port Everglades, FL and Jacksonville, FL as an alternate port every week,” the company states on its website.

Asked whether those ports would be cut off from state funds due to Crowley’s activities,  the governor’s office issued this response: “While the Governor does not support doing business with the Castro regime, ports receive state funding and private businesses do not.”

In October 2000, the U.S. Congress passed legislation, later signed by the President into law on October 28, 2000, which changed the U.S.-Cuba trade relationship by enacting certain exceptions from U.S. sanctions legislation for agricultural and medical exports.

The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 was not comprehensive and some prohibitions remain. The ban on U.S. imports from Cuba was not changed by this legislation.

John Kavulich, president, U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc., said that since the first exports of agricultural commodities and food products in December 2001, the total value of exports has exceeded $5.2 billion. Since 1992, more than $16 million in healthcare products has been exported under provisions of the Cuban Democracy Act.

Since 2010, the U.S. has exported more than 4.8 million tons of products to Cuba. Of that, 737,155 tons went to Cuba from Florida ports.

Kavulich said that during the Obama Administration, imports were authorized by changes to regulations.   Agricultural commodities included coffee and charcoal, with sourcing restrictions (a non-Republic of Cuba government component) and textiles and crafts created by independent business owners.

There are no specific “bans” on imports from the Republic of Cuba, however, there are statutory impediments relating to duties and tariffs, Kavulich said.





Port of PB cruise business purchased by former Norwegian Cruise CEO

The MV Grand Celebration sails from the Port of Palm Beach three to four times a week.
The MV Grand Celebration sails from the Port of Palm Beach three to four times a week.

The cruise firm that sails the Grand Celebration from the Port of Palm Beach to The Bahamas is under new ownership that includes the former president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Kevin Sheehan.

Sheehan resigned from Miami-based Norwegian in January 2015 after serving as its chief for seven years.

“The purchase of Paradise Cruise Line is a family investment with a strong executive management team. We have a great appreciation for the Port of Palm Beach and believe it is a fantastic port which will contribute to the future success of the Grand Celebration,” Sheehan said Tuesday.

In August of this year he joined Las Vegas-based Scientific Games Corp. as its new CEO and president. Scientific Games is a leading developer of technology-based products and services and associated content for worldwide gaming, lottery, and interactive markets.

The ship itself, the MV Grand Celebration is leased, but the company that owned the  business, Cruise Operator, doing business as Bahamas Paradise Cruise line, has sold the business for an undisclosed amount to a new operator, Paradise Cruise Line Operator, Ltd., incorporated in The Bahamas.  The deal closed Dec. 22.

The 1,800-passenger ship sails to The Bahamas three or four times a week, and it’s the only cruise ship at the port in Riviera Beach. It’s the largest cruise ship ever based there.

Jarra Kaczwara, the port’s senior director, business development, said the two-night cruises have been highly successful.

“It’s a tremendous value and a tremendous cruise for the money, $129,” Kaczwara said.

From October 2015 through September of this year, 482,211 passengers took the cruise. The peak month was July, with 54,036 passengers.

Port commissioners approved the operating agreement with the new company on Dec. 15.

Oneil Khosa,  managing partner and co-owner with Sheehan in the venture, said then that he and Sheehan are both cruise professionals who have spent a “considerable amount of time in this business.”

Khosa said the company plans  to enhance the cruise’s operations and add more capacity.

Kaczwara said, “There are many things they can do to expand capacity. I know they are looking at every option possible, and that could mean bringing a second vessel into their fleet.”

At 733 feet in length, the Grand Celebration is the maximum size ship the port can handle, Kaczwara said. But with the berth available while the ship is in progress, another two-night or a four-night cruise is a possibility, she said.

The port receives roughly $4 million a year in ship’s fees and passenger parking from the venture.

The Grand Celebration launched in January 2015, replacing the Bahamas Celebration, which ran aground in Freeport on Halloween weekend in 2014. The 1,250-passenger Bahamas Celebration was sold for scrap metal. It had sailed from the port to Freeport since 2010.

Since Hurricane Matthew damaged Freeport, Grand Bahama, the Grand Celebration has been diverted to Bimini, but is expected to resume sailing to Freeport again after Jan. 3, a customer service representative said.

The 750-cabin Grand Celebration has a crew of 600 and features 10 public decks, five restaurants, a casino, seven music venues, multiple lounges and an 850-seat performance center.

The ship also has five pools and whirlpool spas, a spa-beauty-fitness center, three stores and three children’s areas.

To book a cruise, go to or  or call 800-995-3201.







High-ranking Cuban officials plan January visit to Port of Palm Beach

The S.S. New Grand Haven, shown here, hauled cargo from the Port of Palm Beach to Cuba in the 1950s.
The S.S. New Grand Haven, shown here, hauled cargo from the Port of Palm Beach to Cuba in the 1950s.

Five high-ranking transportation ministers from the Cuban government are scheduled to visit the Port of Palm Beach to meet local port officials and businesses from Jan. 26-28, Executive Port Director Manuel Almira said Thursday.

Almira said that in November the Minister Counselor of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. notified the port of the proposed visit.

“They are prepared to make presentations on the Port Mariel special development zone, their inland waterway and seaport capabilities, and their foreign trade investment to local business people at the Port of Palm Beach and in Palm Beach County,” Almira told port commissioners at their monthly meeting.

Port staff is working on the agenda, and no further details were available Friday.

Cuba has indicated it  plans to position its Mariel port as the first port of call for new Panamax container vessels. Feeder services would then transport cargo to ports in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a published report in the Journal of Commerce.

In July the Port of Palm Beach,  based in Riviera Beach, began construction of a $10.4 million mini-slip known as Berth 17. Almira said the berth is being positioned for a multitude of uses, including rail barge service to the entire Caribbean, which potentially includes Cuba.

The first steps toward normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba  began in 2014 as the Obama administration began creating exceptions to the 54-year-old embargo to allow limited trade.

This year tourism restrictions were eased as the first U.S. cruise passengers in several decades sailed to Cuban ports, although U.S. law still prohibits general tourism to Cuba. The first commercial flight from the U.S. to Havana in more than 50 years landed Nov. 28.

President-elect Donald Trump has indicated that he will terminate the détente unless Cuba grants greater freedoms to its people and agrees to something more for Americans than a “one-sided Cuban deal.”

Port of Palm Beach reports record income, cruise passengers, cargo, up

The MV Grand Celebration is expected to arrive at the Port of Palm Beach Tuesday morning.
The MV Grand Celebration cruise ship is based at the Port of Palm Beach.

The Port of Palm Beach experienced record revenues of $16.6 million for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, as cargo shipments and cruise ship passenger counts rose, the port’s executive director Manuel Almira said Thursday.

The 162-acre port with more than 30 tenants and users on-site in Riviera Beach made more than $2 million in profit, Almira told the port commission at its monthly meeting. The record year follows revenues of $16.1 million in 2015 and $15.8 million in 2014.

“This is the first time we have seen these kinds of levels, record-breaking revenue and profit,”  Almira said. “Our strategy continues to pay off, tight on expenses. Anything that floats we go after it, and see if it makes any sense to bring it to the Port of Palm Beach.”

A big success has been the multi-day cruises offered on the Grand Celebration.  More than 482,000 passengers went through the port in fiscal year 2016. That’s equivalent to Oasis-type vessels that cruise out of Port Everglades, Almira said.

“That is something to be really proud of,” Almira said.

Along with the now-defunct Blue Horizon Casino  day cruises that ceased operations in March, the total passengers reached 502,876 for the first time since before the recession.

Cargo shipments were up 16 percent, primarily due to an increase in steel rebar imports and shipments of sugar produced in western Palm Beach County.  The port, primarily an export port,  processes more than $4.9 billion in commodities and over 2.5 million tons of cargoes a year.

Earlier this month Moody’s Investor Services announced the port would maintain its Baa3 rating/stable outlook on outstanding revenue bonds. The decision was based upon the port’s sustained financial performance and improved cash flow predictability over the long term.

Port chairman Wayne Richards said, “Thanks to our long-term contracts and revenue guarantees, we are able to maintain consistency through market volatility. Further, port management maintains aggressive marketing campaigns that help retain existing customers and obtain new business, allowing for a steady and growing revenue stream.”




Palm Beach Co. cites port over issues at Peanut Island JFK bunker, station

Visitors enter the JFK Bunker on Peanut Island. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
Visitors enter the JFK Bunker on Peanut Island. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

The Port of Palm Beach has six months to correct code enforcement violations at facilities on Peanut Island which it leases to the Palm Beach Maritime Museum, a Palm Beach County building official said Friday.

The port leases the Cold War-era John F. Kennedy bunker and the 1936 former U.S. Coast Guard station and boathouse on 6 acres on Peanut Island to the museum. The lease dating back to 1992 expires in October 2017.

Ramsay Bulkeley, deputy director, Palm Beach County Planning, Zoning and Building,  said that a finalized building inspection report was hand-delivered to the port Thursday.

There are no public safety issues at the facilities, Bulkeley said.

The port has six months to bring the property into compliance, but if it shows it is making headway, the deadline can be extended, Bulkeley said. No fines have been issued.

The Coast Guard stopped using the property more than 20 years ago. However,  Bulkeley said, a change of occupancy permit to “public use” has never been applied for or issued.

Numerous improvements such as drywall replacement,  plumbing, air conditioning and electrical work have also been made without permits, Bulkeley said.

The report states, “According to the County records there have been almost no permits applied for or completed at the site since the Coast Guard Station was decommissioned in June 1995, although a significant amount of work appears to have been performed during the interim.”

Port attorney Greg Picken said the notice covers the same issues as a report the county gave the port in February, but the issues are restated with more specificity.

The notices will be sent to the Palm Beach Maritime Museum with a letter similar to the one that accompanied the notices from February. It will state that the county has alleged violations. If they are lawfully determined to be violations and are not corrected, the port commission would then address its rights under the lease to compel enforcement of the terms of the lease, Picken said.

Anthony Miller, whose company Maritime Business operates and manages the property for the museum, said he finds it interesting that the county is now saying the facility isn’t permitted when it has been operating as a museum since 1992.

“The county is saying that after more than 20 years, even with lawsuits over a restaurant, they didn’t know it was a museum?” Miller asked.

In 2011 the museum sued the county commission over rules prohibiting a restaurant on the island. Code enforcement officers discovered the museum had been operating a restaurant and helicopter ride in violation of county rules.

Miller said the port signed a lease with the museum in 1993, and that the state recognized it as a museum and gave it a $350,000 grant early on.

At an Oct. 18 Palm Beach County Commission meeting, Commissioner Priscilla Taylor asked county staff to research taking over the facilities as a county park. The bulk of the 80-acre island is already a county park.

Miller said about 200 people a week tour the former bomb shelter and station.

“Everyone loves it,” Miller said. “We do a lot of fun stuff over there and the county doesn’t seem to care about anything we do.”




Freeport closed in Matthew’s wake. Grand Celebration sails to Bimini instead..

The MV Grand Celebration is expected to arrive at the Port of Palm Beach Tuesday morning.
The MV Grand Celebration is the only cruise ship which sails out of the Port of Palm Beach.

Grand Celebration, the ship which normally sails from the Port of Palm Beach to Freeport, Grand Bahama, is now headed to the island of Bimini instead, the company confirmed Monday.

Hurricane Matthew hit Grand Bahama as a Category 4 storm. Although Freeport Harbor is open for business, the port is closed to cruise ships.

It’s not known when Freeport’s port will re-open.

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line operates the 1,800-passenger ship which offers two-night cruises. From October 2015 through August of this year, 452,618 passengers took the cruise. The peak month was July, with 54,036 passengers, according to reports filed with the Port of Palm Beach.





Hurricane Matthew: Port of Palm Beach, other South Florida ports at condition X-ray

The Port of Palm Beach is under port condition X-ray because of Hurricane Matthew. (Provided)
The Port of Palm Beach is under port condition X-ray because of Hurricane Matthew. (Provided)

The Coast Guard has set port condition X-ray for all South Florida ports and terminals as Hurricane Matthew approaches the state.

As of the 11 a.m. National Hurricane Center advisory, Matthew is poised to hit Florida along the Atlantic coast. A hurricane watch has been issued from Deerfield Beach to Brevard County.

Port of Palm Beach, Port Miami, Port Everglades and Port of Fort Pierce are included in the Coast Guard’s advisory.

Port condition X-ray is set when sustained gale force winds of 25 mph and gusts up to 40 mph from Matthew are expected in the area within 48 hours.

The ports are still open to commercial traffic while condition X-ray is in effect. However, the Coast Guard says all commercial ships and barges greater than 500 gross tons should start preparing to leave port now.

Since yesterday, South Florida ports have been under port condition Whiskey. The next port condition would be Yankee, meaning sustained gale force winds are expected within 24 hours. At that time, traffic into and out of the port will be restricted.

The Coast Guard offers these safety tips for boaters ahead of the storm:

  • Stay off the water.  The Coast Guard’s search and rescue capabilities degrade as storm conditions strengthen.  This means help could be delayed.  Boaters should heed weather watches, warnings and small craft advisories.
  • Evacuate as necessary.  If mandatory evacuations are set for an area, the public should evacuate without delay.  Coast Guard personnel and other emergency responders may not be able to evacuate or rescue those in danger during the storm.
  • Secure belongings.  Owners of large boats are urged to move their vessels to inland marinas where they will be less vulnerable to breaking free of their moorings or to sustaining damage.  Trailerable boats should be pulled from the water and stored in a place that is not prone to flooding.  Those who are leaving their boats in the water are reminded to remove EPIRBs and to secure life rings, lifejackets and small boats. These items, if not properly secured, can break free and require valuable search and rescue resources be diverted to ensure people are not in distress.
  • Stay clear of beaches. Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by hurricanes.  Swimmers should stay clear of beaches until local lifeguards and law enforcement officials say the water is safe.
  • Be prepared. Area residents should be prepared by developing a family plan, creating a disaster supply kit, having a place to go, securing their home and having a plan for pets. Information can be found at the National Hurricane Center’s webpage.
  • Stay informed. The public should monitor the progress and strength of the storm through local television, radio and Internet. Boaters can monitor its progress on VHF radio channel 16. Information can also be obtained on small craft advisories and warnings on VHF radio channel 16.

More coverage of Hurricane Matthew:

When do I put up my hurricane shutters?

The latest from The Post’s weather reporter, Kim Miller

Make sure you have your hurricane supplies

Which Palm Beach County gas stations can pump without power?

Port of Palm Beach’s new berth could lead to trade with Cuba

This rendering shows with the revamped Berth 17 will look like.
This rendering shows with the revamped Berth 17 will look like.

The Port of Palm Beach broke ground Thursday on  construction of a $10.4 million  mini-slip at its southernmost berth that could eventually serve as a base for cargo service to Cuba.

Known as Berth 17,  the expansion and infrastructure project at the port in Riviera Beach is expected to be completed by next July.

The port’s executive director Manuel Almira said Friday, “We are positioning this berth for a multitude of uses, including rail barge service to the entire Caribbean, which now potentially includes Cuba.”

The project includes the demolition and removal of the existing bulkhead, and 376 feet of seawall construction along with utility, drainage and pavement improvements.

“The construction of this mini-slip will allow the port to significantly diversify its operational profile and revenue stream, adding space for another user to operate at the port 365 days a year,” said Port of Palm Beach Chairman Wayne Richards.

“Over the last 12 months, the port saw over $5 billion worth of imported and exported product move through its piers. By continuously investing in infrastructure expansion and improvements such as Berth 17, the port enables local businesses the opportunity to increase their capacities and revenues.”

Almira said that small vessels with roll-on and roll-off ramps for cargo will be able to use the berth, that’s also being considered for possible railroad/barge service to Cuba. The port is in discussions with railroad companies.

In 1957 the port was the nation’s top port for cargo to and from Cuba, and Almira believes that could happen once again.

“We are taking an area of the port that previously had little use and making it into a very productive area,” Almira said.

The berth’s expansion is projected to produce an additional volume of approximately 14,000 twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs of cargo, valued at approximately $8.8 million a year during the first year, Almira said.

The contract was awarded to  LM Heavy Civil Construction LLC. The firm headquartered in Quincy, Mass. also has offices in Pompano Beach.