New Port Canaveral: Changes won't include new property taxes or cargo rail route

10/26/2017

, FLORIDA TODAY

Port Canaveral commissioners are seeking to reassure residents that the port's proposed master plan would not lead to some of the residents' worst fears: new property taxes or a cargo rail route over the Banana River.

The wide-ranging, 30-year master plan for the port's cruise, cargo, Cove area and recreational operations contains neither of these. And a port consultant who presented the plan last week at a public forum emphasized that those things will not be not part of the plan.

Still, some residents of port districts of northern Brevard who closely monitor developments at the port indicated during Tuesday night's Canaveral Port Authority meeting that they are not 100 percent convinced.

Five of them addressed port commissioners during the public comment period near the end of the Canaveral Port Authority meeting, after which port commissioners responded to some of their concerns.

Canaveral Port Authority chairman Tom Weinberg said port commissioners have "been very clear we are not interested" in pursuing cargo rail routes over the Banana River to the mainland.

Port officials have told the Surface Transportation Board, which is the federal regulatory agency that regulates rail routes, that the only route the port would consider is one through Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Port Authority secretary/treasurer Jerry Allender said the port has not levied taxes for more than three decades, "and we are not going to levy any taxes in the future."

Among other concerns residents brought up Tuesday was the safety of a potential liquefied natural gas operation at the port that would be used to fuel cruise ships and to supply the space industry.

"The proximity of LNG to populated areas and structures is not acceptable at all,"  Merritt Island resident Mary Hillberg said.

Port Authority Vice Chair Wayne Justice said the port needs to work to educate the public about the improved safety of such operations.

Ted Lund, a resident of the Cocoa Beach area, suggested that the port cede submerged land the port owns — but says it has no plans to develop — to the state or to a conservation organization.

Merritt Island resident Tammy Dabu asked port commissioners to "focus on what we're good at" — the cruise ship business — and not seek to expand cargo operation.

Port Canaveral is the world's second-busiest cruise port, behind the Port of Miami. Cruise ships and cruise-related parking account for 80 percent of the port's revenue.

The master plan includes a number on components, including three new cruise terminals to be built by 2030, a conference center, space for new restaurants, a commercial fishing village, a new park, a "spaceport area" for the commercial space industry, a ground transportation center, a service harbor, space for offices and maritime businesses along George King Boulevard, a new bicycle path/"linear park" connecting the port's park areas and additional cargo area improvements.

The plan also proposes creation of an inlet from an area west of the current Cove area to a man-made inner harbor for smaller vessels.

Allender said there must be a demonstrated demand for the individual components of the plan before port commissioners move forward.

"It's not like 'The Field of Dreams,' " where the theme is if you build it, they will come, Allender said. "We're not going to do all this at one time."

Port Commissioner Micah Loyd said anything the port pursues has "got to fit into what our community wants."

Port consultant Luis Ajamil, chief executive officer of Miami-based Bermello Ajamil & Partners, said the total cost of the capital improvements contained in the master plan is $2.54 billion over 30 years, including about $700 million for maintenance projects. 

More than 200 people showed up at the port's Maritime Center on Oct. 16 to hear an overview of the port's 30-year master plan from Ajamil. Attendees then providing their feedback during informal discussions with port officials and the consultants, as well as through written comments.

Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said port officials and its consultants on the master plan will analyze the feedback from the public.

Based on that feedback, they will revise their plan for consideration by port commissioners.

Murray said there is no specific timetable for bringing the plan to the Port Authority for consideration.

"There's no rush," Murray said. "We want to involve the public, and we want to do it right."

Weinberg suggested that, when the plan comes to port commissioners for consideration, the various components of it be presented and voted on separately.

He said the port received 31 comment cards on the day of the presentation, and more than a dozen comments afterward.

How to comment: The port is accepting emailed comments through Oct. 31 about the plan. Comments on the plan can be emailed to: comments@portcanaveral.com

How to see master plan: To view the latest draft of the port's master plan, go to: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxIPqpxZTUWZbVRoczRYSENFZDg/view

How to view presentation: To view the port's presentation, go to: https://www.facebook.com/portcanaveral/videos/10154762229175780/

To view the original article, click here.