MIAMI (AP) -- On a postcard-perfect Friday, Gov. Rick Scott joined other officials for a boat tour of a $220 million dredging operation that will enable Miami's cargo port to accommodate much bigger ships that soon will pass through a widened Panama Canal.
When completed in spring 2015, the ship channel will be deepened to more than 50 feet, making PortMiami the closest East Coast location to the vital trade canal that will be able to handle the so-called post-Panamax vessels. The others are in Norfolk, Va.; Baltimore, Md.; and New York City/New Jersey.
The operation will also widen the channel's entrance just off South Beach from 500 feet to 800 feet.
Scott, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and other officials paid a visit by boat to the hopper dredge Terrapin Island, which acts as a giant vacuum to scoop up material from the port's floor that will later be deposited out at sea. Under bright sunny skies with temperatures in the low 80s, Scott told reporters after the tour that the channel deepening and other PortMiami projects will eventually translate into 33,000 jobs across Florida because of expanded trade.
"It's going to create a lot of jobs and make sure PortMiami is the port for the East Coast," the Republican governor said. "I've traveled the world. Everybody wants to come to Miami. But we need more jobs here."
Scott, who is running for re-election next year, has made the economy and job creation cornerstones of his administration and rarely passes up an opportunity to announce even modest employment gains. The PortMiami projects, however, hardly qualify as modest at more than $2 billion in total.
- A $915 million tunnel linking downtown Miami to the port for both cargo trucks and cruise ship passengers. It's slated to open in May 2014.
- Four larger cranes capable of handling cargo from the post-Panamax ships. Delivered from China in October, they cost about $39 million.
- A $65 million bulkhead strengthening and renovation project along the port's wharves.
- Improved connections between the port and intermodal rail service, costing almost $47 million.
- The Deep Dredge project, which is being split in cost with the state covering $112 million and Miami-Dade County $108 million.
"Miami is going to be big-ship ready," Gimenez said.
In addition to the dredging and other work, several environmental mitigation projects are planned including restoration of 16 acres of sea grass in Biscayne Bay, creation of nine acres of artificial reef and relocation of hard coral colonies. In total, some 2.1 million cubic yards of material will be removed in the dredging project.