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Monday September 1st 2014

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Port as Offshore-Drilling Pitstop?

The Global 1200 is the latest gargantuan fixture up at Pensacola’s port. It’s a whopper of a vessel, with steel braids of cranes and infrastructure stretching to the clouds. The ship is used to service offshore oil rigs and its looming, industrial hulk of a presence—the skyline of a working port—may become a constant feature of Pensacola’s waterfront horizon.

This morning, the vessel served as a backdrop for an announcement by Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. Lawn-chair fishermen and comfortable pelicans were taken by gradual surprise as the gaggle of media and local-government types assembled the scene at Plaza de Luna.

“Without further ado, I’m gonna get into a little speech,” Hayward kicked off the waterfront press conference.

The Mayor’s announcement pertained to the future of Pensacola’s port. The Port Advisory Committee had been studying the issue, and Hayward seemed ready to get the ball rolling.

“This is not an overnight solution, but this is a plan,” Hayward said.

The port has seen many different uses during its long history. At the turn of the century and before it was a shipping center. More recently, until demolished after sustaining hurricane damage, it was home to the Bayfront Auditorium. Hayward said that the port has continued to “limp along over the past few decades.”

“Over the past several years, the Port of Pensacola has struggled under the weight of political infighting, financial funding, and increased competition from neighboring ports and their local or state port authorities,” he said.

The Mayor said that future port uses will be guided by “not just dollars and cents, but overall community benefit, including economic impact, job creation, revenue spinoff and community aesthetics.”

Mostly, though, Hayward is looking to have the port serve as a docking destination for the offshore drilling industry.

“Domestic oil and natural gas exploration is on the rise, and we should position ourselves to be a player in this growing market,” Hayward said.

Toward this end, the Mayor plans to seek alternative measures of funding—possibly directing BP money to port needs—as well as working with the Pensacola City Council to “adopt policies to allow port staff to expedite decision-making, including tariffs, contract, and lease agreement with mayoral approval.”

The city will also be looking to “re-examine” its lease with Monterey, Mexico-based Cemex, and other port tenants, so that the sites might be freed up. The Cemex lease goes until 2022.

Following the announcement, Mayor Hayward headed over to the Crown Plaza Hotel for the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon. Various groups made pitches for their various causes to the state lawmakers. Clyde Mathis, director of the Port of Pensacola, talked a little about the port’s future use as an oil-field pitstop.

“This is kind of a ‘good news-bad news’ thing,” he said.

If the port is used to service offshore vessels working in the Gulf oil fields, many jobs will be created. They’ll be laborers and welders and engineers and “real high tech people.” Unfortunately, Mathis told the lunch crowd of business leaders, many of those jobs will go to out of town contractors— “especially from Louisiana and Texas.”