LWRWC Takes a Memorable Tour of Port Manatee
By MONIKA TEMPLEMAN
On Monday, March 23, 2015, approximately 70 members from the Lakewood Ranch Women’s Club took a memorable guided tour of Port Manatee; one of Florida’s largest and fastest growing deep water seaports and a favorite attraction of visitors and local residents alike.
The informative, open air tram port tour program is the recipient of multiple awards from the American Association of Port Authorities and has hosted more than 50,000 guests since it was initiated in 1998.
Located in the eastern Gulf of Mexico near the entrance to Tampa Bay, Port Manatee is the closest U.S. deep water seaport to Mexico’s bustling manufacturing centers and the expanding Panama Canal.
Courtesy of our knowledgeable tour guide, George Mendez, the Club Members learned all about the port’s role in commerce and environmental protection. The ladies were afforded the opportunity to view the day to day workings of this thriving port while enjoying an up-close and personal view of the shipping activity and wildlife in Port Manatee and Tampa Bay.
George explained that Port Manatee is committed to developing diversified and competitive deep water shipping facilities and conducting maritime-related activities in a profitable and environmentally responsible manner.
The port and its partners move approximately 8 million tons of containerized, break-bulk, bulk and project cargo each year including fresh produce, forestry products, petroleum products, citrus juice products, fertilizer, steel, aluminum, automobiles, cement, and much more.
George proudly shared the news that Port Manatee will benefit from full federal funding of a feasibility study related to deepening of its channel and harbor area and is one of only 10 waterways in the continental United States identified for such funding in FY 2016 civil works budget. This funded study represents a milestone in port’s efforts to reach a target harbor depth of 45 feet to allow the port to accommodate the majority of vessels transiting the expanded Panama Canal and providing shippers with speedy access to Pacific Rim markets.
As the tram drove past a series of large buildings, the ladues were told that Port Manatee has a long history of successfully handling refrigerated products – with the largest such capacity on the West Coast of Florida (207,000 square feet of refrigerated warehouse space and 30,000 square ft. of freezer space).
They also learned that Port Manatee is Fresh Del Monte Produce’s second largest U. S. port facility and is also the Southeast’s leading forestry products importer. The ladies were particularly impressed with the fact that the port generates more than $2.3 billion in annual economic impact for the local community, while supporting more than 24,000 jobs, without the benefit of ad-valorem taxes.
Unlike many other ports that are subsidized through taxes, port Manatee is self-supporting, with rental income as a primary source of revenue. Port Manatee hosts the Ship Shape Showcase Trade Show in August that is open to the public and our guide encouraged all of us to check it out. We also learned that Port Manatee is completely independent from Manatee County Government with one exception; the County Commissioner also serves as the Port Authority.
Sharing highlights of the Port’s involvement in wildlife protection, George pointed out a picturesque island in the harbor and explained that Port Manatee partnered with the Autobahn Society to develop a thriving Bird Sanctuary. A contest was held to name this island and a Manatee County third grader came up with the winning name; Manbirdtee Key.
The tour also went past the Anchor House, sporting a sign “Reaching the World through Port Manatee” and learned that the building serves as a non-denominational chapel, recreation center, and offers visiting sailors various types of free assistance, including books that they can keep or “borrow” indefinitely. Anchor House greatly appreciates donations of books, especially in foreign languages to support this program.
A “Sweet” Twist
At the conclusion of the tour, the driver pulled the tram into the Truck scale weighing station. In comparison to the average container truck weighing 80,000 lbs. the tour tram, with more than 70 people aboard, weighed only 27,880 lbs. The host tactfully refused to tell how much the tram weighs without any passengers.
The delightful one-and-a-quarter-hour tour ended with an intriguing question from the tour guide who inquired whether the group was experiencing a strange craving for chocolate. He quickly explained that the tram was once owned by Hersey Park in Hersey Pennsylvania and somehow evoked a craving for the sweet taste of chocolate when guests rode in this particular tram.
With thoughts of exciting travel and tasty treats, the ladies headed to the beautiful Pier 22 Restaurant on the Manatee River in Bradenton for a wonderful gourmet lunch where they swapped stories about upcoming cruises to exotic ports and admired gorgeous water views.