I want to thank you and acknowledge your July 6 opinion “Protect bay and cruise ship industry” (Our Views), which addresses concerns about the air draft of larger cruise ships, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the future of the cruise industry at Port Tampa Bay and raises possible impacts to the environmental integrity of Tampa Bay and its unique ecosystem.
We at Port Tampa Bay stand in full agreement with the environmental issues raised and believe deeply that careful consideration to both the environment and economic impacts are of paramount importance. In fact, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s and Hillsborough County commissioner Sandy Murman’s comments articulate well the concerns that all of us as Tampa Bay area citizens have regarding our waters and surrounding habitats.
Our commitment to the health of Tampa Bay, in all aspects, runs deep and governs every action we take. It is one of the reasons Port Tampa Bay works tirelessly to cultivate and collaborate with all our partners at the federal, state and local levels, as well as within the private sector.
We also know that part of sustaining the region’s largest economic engine is growth, so we look ahead to the future of the cruise industry in Port Tampa Bay with the same diligence and fervor in planning that we use in our mitigation of environmental impacts.
We look at all of our lines of business this way — whether it is phosphates, petroleum, steel, container cargo or automobiles. It is part of our planning process to envision the future.
This said, it is important to understand that the Florida Department of Transportation’s pre-feasability cruise study is only the first phase in a multi-phased, comprehensive study to find a solution for what is considered to be a major limitation for our cruise business down the road. It makes no recommendations — it is a study to identify issues.
It is, however, the first step and a catalyst for developing the next phase of the study to explore issues surrounding solutions, mitigation and other steps that will enable Port Tampa Bay to remain viable in the cruise industry a decade from now while simultaneously operating the way we always have — with a deep and profound respect for our environmental gift that is Tampa Bay.
As your editorial states, the port is indeed an economic engine — the region’s largest, generating $15 billion in annual economic impact and supporting 80,000 jobs.
The port’s continued success — and growth — in the cruise industry rests on creative exploration of the options the study deems available for consideration — with the full range of challenges and opportunities.
Port Tampa Bay leadership, including its highly apt board and staff, understand that all our lines of business have environmental impact that must be mitigated.
Thus, our firm commitment remains to build upon the region’s largest economic engine in ways that place environmental considerations as top priority.
A. Paul Anderson is president and CEO of Port Tampa Bay.