Port Panama City Moves Beyond Hurricane Michael Impacts and Sets the Stage for Growth
Hurricane Michael caused unimaginable destruction to Bay County and the surrounding tri-state region when it roared ashore as a category five storm on October 10, 2018. Port Panama City was not immune to the strength of the storm, and recorded major damage to Port Authority warehouses and infrastructure at all three locations in Panama City with the new forest products warehouse at the East Terminal and half of the Port’s Intermodal Distribution Center rendered unusable. Fortunately, the Port’s bulkheads, cranes, and cargo handling equipment were not damaged. Almost all of the Port Authority’s employees suffered personal losses, with many losing their home. Thankfully, no port employees or port tenant employees were physically injured.
In spite of huge challenges at home, Port employees responded with tremendous dedication and skill as they worked to quickly make emergency repairs in order to get the Port back in operation. Local and Federal stakeholders, including the St. Andrew Bay Harbor Pilots, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, and NOAA did a remarkable job surveying the channel and restoring navigation aids. Port Tampa Bay sent a survey team to assist the Port by performing berth and facility audits. Gulf Power was able to restore electricity to the Port four days after the storm, a remarkable feat as they continued to rebuild the electrical grid in Bay County.
One week after Michael, the Port was able to resume vessel activity and limited terminal services. Within two weeks, the Port’s employees and contractors had managed to complete necessary temporary repairs in order to resume normal terminal operations at the West Terminal. Our on-Port industrial tenants Oceaneering ad Berg Steel Pipe also worked in an expeditious manner to get their facilities back in operation. industrial tenants also made the temporary repairs necessary to get back into production within two weeks. With the hard work and dedication of our employees and emergency contractors, all of the Port’s shippers were able to return to the Port.
Today, normal port and terminal operations are being conducted at the West Terminal. Fortunately, the Port Authority is well-insured, which enabled storm repairs to start quickly. Repairs are continuing at a brisk pace to the nearly $16 million in damaged port facilities caused by the hurricane. The IDC warehouse should be fully repaired by the end of July, and the East Terminal warehouse will complete during the fourth quarter of 2019.
Port Panama City Receives Funding for Deepening Channel to New East Terminal
The Port received very encouraging news in the wake of the hurricane. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received the funding necessary for deepening the East Channel at the Port of Panama City. This project will complete the port-wide harbor improvements and deepen the channel to a controlling depth of 36+2 feet. The Port is also moving ahead with the construction of a new bulkhead at the East Terminal to support the deeper channel. Wayne Stubbs, Executive Director of the Panama City Port Authority, said, “We are very appreciative of the work of the Mobile District and for the support this project received from Congressman Dunn, Senator Rubio, and Senator Nelson. We have also had great support from the Florida Department of Transportation. The East channel deepening is essential to the development of our new East Terminal which positions the Port for several decades of growth.”
The first phase of the East Terminal includes a new 260,000 square-foot warehouse, ten thousand feet of rail track, and a new nine-hundred-foot bulkhead. The berth improvements and dredging are on schedule to be completed by the end of 2019.
Within five years, the Port Authority expects to have a very modern and active East Terminal. Future development of this facility will include a second berth, a second on-port warehouse, and additional open storage that can be developed for port operations. The main access corridor to the East Terminal, East Avenue, will be widened, and the East Avenue Bridge at the entrance to the terminal will be replaced.
Within ten years, the Port of Panama City plans to further expand the East Terminal to include seventy acres of land. The expanded capacity would allow for greater flexibility of cargo operations between the Port’s two terminals. The Port’s West Terminal facility will have the infrastructure to double its container handling capacity to 150,000 TEU’s per year in order to support its container trade with Mexico and pursue Central and South America opportunities. Growth in these trades has the potential to generate additional transportation and distribution jobs throughout Bay County and northwest Florida. The West Terminal will also continue to support Berg Steel Pipe, Oceaneering International, and Enviva Biomass.
More good news: The Panama City Port Authority receives a $10 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to be combined with a $2.7 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to construct a biomass storage dome, expanding its current bulk warehouse facility.
Port Panama City currently leads the country in biomass exports. The expansion will provide additional bulk storage and handling infrastructure to allow for an increased capacity of 200,000 to 300,000 tons annually. This has the potential to push total biomass exports to one-million tons per year. The new bulk storage facility will include a concrete dome structure that is 150 feet in diameter and will stand 105 feet tall. The dome will be capable of storing up to twenty-thousand tons of biomass pellets, and include new conveyance systems that connect into the existing bulk terminal facility.
The anticipated annual economic impacts of the bulk storage facility expansion are:
- 172 well-paying jobs will be created in the port, transportation, manufacturing, and timber industry sectors
- Generate $5 million in new wages annually
- Increase Port export tonnage by two-hundred thousand tons annually
- Generate new export activity totaling $50 million dollars per year
- Generate new local purchases of $4.9 million annually
- Generate state and local tax revenue by $1.1 million per year
The city of Panama City, Panama City Port Authority, Bay County, and the surrounding tri-state region were dealt a major blow from Hurricane Michael. However, resiliency has shown through in many ways. You cannot keep a good community down, and you also cannot keep a good Port down. The Port is working hard to fulfill its mission statement by expanding regional economic opportunities by providing modern port facilities, promoting trade, and supporting industrial development. The Port today is supporting over ten thousand direct and indirect jobs and producing an annual economic impact of $1.4 billion. With these cornerstone projects underway, the Port is positioning itself and the region for long-term growth and will be known as one of Florida’s growing “Port Cities.”