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Anderson addresses Panama Canal expansion concerns

September 27, 2011

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) is currently requesting comment from maritime industry leaders and stakeholders on the potential impact of the Panama Canal expansion on U.S. ports, infrastructure and international trade patterns. JAXPORT CEO Paul Anderson provided the following statement to MARAD today:

Comments from Paul Anderson, CEO Jacksonville (FL) Port Authority

JAXPORT CEO Paul AndersonI have no doubt that US East Coast ports will soon be called upon to handle increased volumes but I harbor great doubt as to whether we — any of us — will be ready.

The changes in US trade patterns will occur only when our ports can accommodate any and all ships wanting to call on the East Coast, small, medium and post-Panamax.

If the gridlock in Congress continues to impede critical investment in our major trade gateways, specifically our East Coast ports, trans-shipments from off-shore locations such as the Bahamas will become an increasing factor...a factor which will add cost to shipping goods to this country and which will slow down transit times.

The end result will be a negative impact on the US retail industry, the American consumer and the ability of seaports like JAXPORT to create positive economic impact in the form of jobs and dollars at a time when we desperately need both.

Today, JAXPORT impacts 65,000 jobs in the North Florida region. These are good paying, stable jobs. Our businesses generate $19 billion in annual economic impact for the region in wages and salaries, business revenue, taxes, purchases and customs duties.

In 2009, we opened the TraPac Container Terminal at Dames Point, our first terminal with direct, all-water service to Asia and a true example of public-private partnership. TraPac’s parent company, Japanese shipper MOL, invested more than $200 million in our community, making Jacksonville the company’s East Coast hub, doubling our capacity to handle containers and holding the potential to create 1,500 direct jobs at full operation.

However, it’s been impossible for TraPac to even begin to maximize its investment because an improvement project in our harbor is tied up in the nation’s slow, plodding, infuriating authorization and appropriation process. Who will add up the cost in jobs and dollars during this period of lost opportunity?

Executives of Korean shipping giant Hanjin have committed to build their own East Coast hub at JAXPORT, invest their own $200 million, but are waiting to see if this nation in turn will invest what it takes to be ready for the post-Panamax ships they will attract. Again, this is $1 billion per year in additional economic impact for our region and another 1,500 jobs, all on hold.

So, let me repeat: these are our choices: get ready or lose.

Any business leader assessing the current situation would quickly determine our country's process for prioritizing, approving and funding critical infrastructure projects is fundamentally broken. 

As a nation, we cannot afford either the additional costs this process creates or the time in a globally competitive market, to continue to take an average of 12 years to complete projects in our waterways and ports.

It has to change or we will be unable to meet import and export demands and more importantly, we as ports will be unable to continue making our often overlooked but significant contributions to the prosperity and economic vitality of our nation.

Thank you.

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