Here we go again – something good is going to happen at the Port of Pensacola. This time it is trade with Cuba. See the July 26, 2015 News-Journal report headlined “Pensacola has a history of Cuban Ties”. Actually, there will be little US-Cuba trade any time soon. Local port advocates are “grasping at straws”. Cuba is an extremely poor country with little to export and no money to pay for imports.
Moreover, here have been two major developments in international shipping since the Castros took control of Cuba over 50 years ago: 1) completion of the Interstate Highway System; and 2) introduction of containers into sea transportation. These two developments doomed the Port of Pensacola and many other small seaports. The need for coastal shipping between ports has greatly diminished.
Interstate highways and containers have become the quickest and least expensive way to import. Containers are unloaded at large ports and delivered to final destinations via rail or truck. The reverse is true for exports: U.S. products go by train and truck to the large container ports for shipment abroad. Coastal shipping between large ports and small ports is slower and less efficient than truck and rail.
In a related matter, the advent of a widened Panama Canal and “super container ships” will not alter our port’s prospects. The huge new ships will unload at only a few big ports near major population centers. There is no realistic expectation for the revival of coastal shipping in connection with huge container vessels. Truck and train deliveries to final destinations are quicker and cheaper.
The Port of Pensacola has a bleak future. It has struggled for decades. There have been a long series of disappointments. It has experienced failure after failure. The Port presently has two main tenants. One of the two has stopped construction on a building — for lack of financing, and the other is frequently late on fee payments.
Pensacola should retain a limited deep water cargo capability at the south end of the port. Other parts of the property can be opened up to private development and to the public. The coming Ft. Pickens–Pensacola Beach–Downtown Ferry will be based at Commendencia Slip (on the west side of the Port). This is a promising start. It will attract commercial development and provide public access to the waterfront. Convenient citizen access to the waterfront is a key to downtown revitalization.
— written by Clarence C. Elebash, retired finance professor, University of West Florida