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April 5, 2019

The International Association of Maritime and Port Executives

A Not-for Profit Professional Development Industry Association

From the desk of Capt. Jeff Monroe, MM, AMPE


The following comments are offered by Paul Bea, member of the IAMPE Board of Advisors as a follow up to comments provided by Aimee Andres, also a member of the IAMPE Board of Advisors on port infrastructure funding. The IAMPE welcomes comments and discussion from its members on important topics facing the industry today.

Aimee Andres (Executive Director of the Inland River Ports and Terminal Association) raised the concerns of IRPT members with respect to a first-time funding of port grants for coastal, but not inland, ports by Congress. I offer the following in the interest of providing more information on the subject of port infrastructure grants, which continues to be an active issue in Washington.

Last year, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) put forth the “Port Operations, Research, and Technology Act” to create a port-related infrastructure grants program. It was written to build on an existing and largely ignored MARAD program for port development. That program does not differentiate between coastal and inland ports, and to the best of my knowledge Federal funding was limited to Guam, Alaska and Hawaii projects. Among other things, the Wicker PORT Act bill would put more flesh on that existing Port Infrastructure Development Program and would benefit both inland and coastal ports. The bill is expected to be reintroduced again this year. While maybe not perfect it is worthy of support.

Last year, the DOT appropriations bill (for what is the current fiscal year 2019) was managed in the House by Mario Diaz-Belart (R-FL) and included grant money for port projects. Congress ultimately approved that funding – a total of $293 million – part of which is intended only for container ports like his Port of Miami. As it happens, some wording borrowed from the Wicker bill was included to guide DOT implementation of the grants. However, while the Wicker bill makes both coastal and inland ports eligible for grants, the $293 million appropriation refers only to coastal ports. Why only coastal ports? I don’t know.

So, the good news is that for the first time Congress approved nearly $300 million for port grants. As someone who represents the port sector I consider it a useful precedent for the coming years.

Starting this year, Roger Wicker is the chairman of the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee. He is in a strong position to advance his bill, which is an “authorization” bill not an “appropriations” bill. The FY19 appropriation is a one-time shot of money. If the Wicker bill is ultimately signed into law it can establish at DOT a strong port infrastructure grant program for multiple years and foster annual funding, which is a separate decision made by Congress. While Diaz-Belart is no longer subcommittee chairman his staff have said he wants to continue port grant funding in FY20.

Whether Wicker and Diaz-Belart succeed this year in advancing port infrastructure grants for both coastal and inland ports will depend on port stakeholders – the port authorities, marine terminal operators and stevedores, vessel operators, shippers, local public officials, and workforce. It is a worthy objective that will require the immediate involvement of all such stakeholders in calling for legislation and showing policy makers what goes on at the terminals and what more can be done on the waterfront to benefit the economy. Let me know if you want to learn more.

Paul Bea can be reached at PHB Public Affairs

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