Port Everglades is closer to expanding its cargo handling capabilities.

Broward County commissioners have reaffirmed the port’s need to expand berth space at the port’s Southport Turning Notch.

Florida port to increase ship capacity

Courtesy Port Everglades

Port Everglades plans to expand its cargo handling capabilities so it can handle larger ships that haul containers of produce from Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

The commissioners have also gone on record supporting completing a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deepening and widening study. The feasibility study is looking at deepening the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., port’s channels from 42-50 feet.

Ellen Kennedy, the port’s manager of corporate and community relations, said the improvements are critical because they would allow larger ships to unload cargo there.

“This will facilitate the larger ships coming through the Panama Canal that are carrying containerized cargo,” she said. “We anticipate seeing more larger ships, but also a higher number of ships because they will be able to transit the canal. This project to deepen and widen our waterways is imperative in that effort.”

Ships hailing from the West Coast and Far East will pass through the Panama Canal, which is also widening and deepening its capacity, she said.

Produce remains an important part of the port’s operations, Kennedy said. She said half of the port’s containerized cargo is exported, an unusual situation for ports which normally see more imports.

Produce shipments account for four of the port’s Top 10 commodities shipped in containers, she said.

The port serves as one of south Florida’s hubs for imported produce and handles a variety of produce from South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Pineapple (except canned) is a new category, ranking No. 8 on the list.

“We are a huge produce port,” Kennedy said. “Produce is such a big part of our imported commodities. They are our top commodities. A large percentage of our containerized cargo is refrigerated and comes from Central America and South America. With bananas, we have Chiquita and Dole, but both bring in more than just bananas.”

The Army Corps’ preliminary national economic development plan pinpoints a 2.0 benefit-to-cost ratio for the port improvements, which means every dollar invested in improvements, the project should generate $2 in return.

The federal government is scheduled to fund $155 million of the project that the Army Corps estimates will cost $255 million. The port and other sources plan to cover the balance.

Known as Florida’s busiest container port, Port Everglades is also considered one of the busiest worldwide cruise ports.

The Army Corps plans to release its final feasibility report in November 2012.

Construction is projected to begin in 2015 and completed in 2017.