International travelers (by air and sea) will be able to clear customs in the Middle Keys
Monroe County Commissioner David Rice presided over the “ground breaking” at Marathon Airport’s new Port of Entry offices. Although the silver and gold sledgehammers were purely ceremonial, all the dignitaries that helped make the project a reality spoke of the real work involved in getting the project this far.
“We’ve been talking about this for five years,” said Monroe County’s Director of Airports Peter Horton.
“I’m going to give Marathon Mayor Dick Ramsay credit for this idea,” said Rice. “And he’s worked long and hard to see it happen.”
The addition of U.S. Customs facilities in Marathon is significant. The closest facility for passengers to clear arrivals from international ports and airports is in Miami or Key West. Officials hope the non-commercial international flights will help boost the Keys’ economy. Also, the city expects a higher number of boats to clear customs in the Middle Keys, too.
“The city funded a financial study about the economic benefits of the Port of Entry and the numbers generated a lot of skepticism because they were so astronomical,” said Ramsay. “I told the skeptics to cut the numbers in half then, because those are still pretty phenomenal.”
The study, prepared by a University of Miami professor, estimated the Port of Entry facility would boost the economy by $38 million in production, $9.6 million in increased household earnings, and add about 350 new jobs.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection assistant director of security Steve Maloney had some numbers to back up those claims.
“International travel to the U.S. is climbing at a rate of 4 percent per year over the last five years,” he said. “On average, each international traveler will spend $4,300 on their vacation.”
The facility in Marathon will be slightly different than a regular U.S. Customs facility. It will be classified as a “user fee” Port of Entry, and it will be the first of its kind in South Florida although there are nine on the West Coast of the state. User fee customs facilities charge a fee to pay for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffers plus other operating expenses. The cost of operating regular customs facilities, such as those at Miami International Airport, are borne by the taxpayers.
“Obtaining the Port of Entry status was truly a public-private partnership,” Rice said. Both the city and the county chipped in funds, as did the Marathon Jet Center. In addition, other local business and organizations also wrote checks including the Marathon Chamber of Commerce, Hawks Cay Resort, White Marlin Marina, Pritam Singh and the Spottswood Companies.
The U.S. Customs offices will be constructed inside the east end of the Marathon airport terminal. The $1.1 million construction project begins on Nov. 12 and will involve gutting and refitting the space to federal specifications.
“The standards are very strict for this type of construction project, plus we have to add things like infrastructure to run the computers,” said Marathon Airport Director Don DeGraw.
Editor Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes small and weird children (she has two); prefers target practice with a zombie rat poster; and looks best with saltwater dreads. Occasionally she tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.