Thursday, July 23, 2009

Inland Port Possible In Hendry?

Commissioner Turner Advocates Inland Port for Hendry County

LABELLE, FLORIDA -- During a tour of Hendry County industrial sites, County Commissioner Karson Turner encouraged representatives of regional environmental organizations to support Hendry County�s bid to become home to the proposed south Florida inland port facility. Any approval would mean big land sales for current agricultural and commercial land owners.

The tour of Hendry County was organized by Sierra Club staff member Marti Daltry and included leaders of the Caloosahatchee River Citizen Association, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Everglades Foundation, Audubon Society, Collins Center, and Sierra Club. 

The purpose of the tour was to provide an opportunity for participants to learn more about Hendry County and the areas that would be affected by the U. S. Sugar purchase, ask questions and express their concerns about the inland port sites.

Focal point for the tour was the Airglades Industrial Park west of Clewiston where Commissioner Turner explained the development vision.  Cheryl Eby Gutjahr of Rawls Real Estate next guided the group through the Weekley Brothers warehouse & rail yard east of Clewiston before visiting the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, Storm Water Treatment Area 5, and the Little Cypress Organic Farm operated by Chuck Obern in south Hendry County. 

Advocates of an inland port  say it is needed to relieve container storage, warehousing, rail, truck, and air cargo congestion at south Florida�s deep water ports in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.  Traffic through these ports is expected to increase dramatically when improvements to the Panama Canal are completed, allowing larger ships from the Pacific to reach Caribbean and Atlantic harbors.

Sites in Hendry, Glades, Highlands, Palm Beach and Martin Counties are being considered for the new inland port facilities.  But environmental advocates are worried that locating the inland port in Palm Beach County would conflict with Everglades restoration efforts and negate the value of the state�s huge investments in EAA land purchases. 

Groups like the Everglades Foundation have written to Governor Crist encouraging him to instead look favorably upon the candidate sites in Hendry and Glades Counties. The initial storage footprint is estimated to cost $12 billion dollars for construction and create up to 25,000 jobs to the region during the next twenty years. But saying it doesn't make it so, and there's really no way of predicting such an impact far into the future.

Contrary to what the name may suggest, an inland port does not have to be connected or have access to a body of water.  The formal name for the inland port is Intermodal Logistic Center or ILC.  An ILC provides storage and redistribution services that are supported by trucking highways, rail lines and airports.  It would allow the deep water ports to store, reorganize, and transfer their cargo at a more rural location, away from the congested coasts.

A hot topic of discussion on the tour was how to avoid having ILC facilities at the Airglades, Hilliards, and Weekley Brothers sites becoming a trigger for uncontrolled sprawl in adjacent agricultural lands.  Many in the tour group advocated protecting agricultural lands by adding a Sprawl Prevention Package to the Hendry County ILC industrial site proposal.  They emphasized the need to center commercial and residential re-development in Clewiston, Moore Haven, Port LaBelle, Montura, Pioneer, and LaBelle to help revitalize these communities.

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