US ports: vital cogs in community, national partnerships

The nation's ports are a partnership. It is one founded on the federal government's support for the role of local, competitive ports in the nation's economy and defense. The federal government, as partner, develops and maintains needed navigational channels. Local and state authorities, as partners, build and operate the ports.

The partnership has been fruitful for both sides: Local communities enjoy the economic benefits of port operations; the nation benefits by having a network of thriving, sophisticated ports.

The record testifies to the size of the response b local port operators to the nation's needs for seaport facilities. A 1979 US Maritime Administration study, entitled US Port Development-Expenditure Survey, showed that local ports invested almost $5 billion in nonfederal money in new and expanded facilities from 1946 to 1978. The National Transportation Policy Study Commission last year projected as a "medium growth" scenario, that local US port and harbor facility investments will total some $9.4 billion during the period 1975-2000. The Maritime Administration study showed some $3.8 billion in facility investment is already on the drawing board for the period 1980-1983.

But, Today, seaport managers face a planning dilemma. The federal government has signaled its intention to change the rules for the partnership. Port officials complain that none of the federal environmental protection acts of recent years acknowledge the nation's needs for seaport development in the face of the world's changing maritime fleet. For the nation's port systems, gaining needed federal permits for dredging and terminal development has become a time-consuming and costly process.

And while Congress and the executive branch wrestle over ultimate control of water resources projects, there has not been a new or expanded navigational project authorized since 1976. These delays mean inflation will make terminal development even more expensive in the future and further drain the ability of ports to finance projects.

In addition, port administrators point out that the federal government collects more than $5.5 billion annually at US seaports in custom receipts. This is many times the amount the government spends annually on navigational channel development and maintenance.

Seaport managers also are concerned with President Carter's announced water policy initiatives. The "cost sharing" initiative would require states to pay 5 percent of total costs for navigational channel projects. The industry argues that by developing the port facilities themselves, they already are practicing "cost sharing," and that any further shift of fiscal responsibility to them will seriously inhibit the ability of many ports to meet future cargo demands.

These new challenges come as public port authorities are squeezing capital to finance needed terminal projects. The world's maritime fleet has undergone great changes in the last two decades. Much of the change has resulted from new emphasis on costly containerization facilities. These changes, as well as the nation's growing reliance on imported bulk raw materials, are pressing the need for ports themselves to change.

Port managers believe all seaports, large or small, represent major business enterprises producing significant economic benifits to the communities they serve, and providing essential transportation services to a variety of shipping interests.

A 1978 US Maritime Administration report concluded that operations at the nation's 175 deepdraft ports represent a major national industy definable in terms of "any economic activity directly needed in the movement of waterbone cargo." Gross sales amounted to $28 billion in 1978, equating to a $15 billion contribution to the gross national product. This activity provided employment for 1,046,800 persons.

The report also indicated that one job is sustained by the movement of each 600 tons of waterborne foreign trade. It concluded that every million-dollar increase in the nation's exports requires an average increase of $160,000 in port services.

Although the US seaport industry's statistical profile is impressive, its greater significance is represented by the essential nature of its service to the nation's transporatation sysin the volume of exports and imports. It is the world's leading supplier of agricultural commodities and manufactured goods.

Growing volumes of raw materials are needed to sustain US industrial and agricultural production. In all, US ports annually handle more than 1 billion tons of oceanborne foreign commerce. No one is predicting anything other than a continuing rise in these volumes. Despite the continuing growth of air cargo service, ocean carriers are expected to continue handling more than 95 percent of US foreign trade.

US ports also have a proven importance to national defense strategy.This was confirmed during and after World War I when the US straggled to ship millions of tons of supplies to Europe. The task was even more formidable during World War II when troops and supplies had to be shipped to almost every region of the world. Shortly before he retired as supreme allied commander last year, Adm. Isaac C. Kidd Jr. told Congress that a conventional warfare encounter between NATO and the Warsaw bloc would necessitate 3,000 to 6,000 monthly ship crossings to Europe to resupply NATO forces.

Yet at time when the role of seaports is taking on increased importance in national defense, import-export growth, and a new reliance on coal, port officials say the task of port development is becoming increasingly difficult because of the uncertainties over the federal government's role in their task.

The nation's largest ports 1977 figures (latest year available) in tons Total Export/ Port Cargo Import Domestic 1. New York 185,292,125 66,608,016 118,684,109 2. New Orleans 162,991,985 64,287,153 98,704,832 3. Houston 104,291,267 51,041,038 53,250,229 4. Baton Rouge 70,008,229 25,505,184 44,503,045 5. Philadelphia 49,710,565 30,068,243 19,642,322 6. Beaumont 48,918,843 26,804,350 22,114,493 7. Corpus Christi 46,871,695 24,208,394 22,663,301 8. Tampa 45,619,951 21,057,228 24,562,723 9. Baltimore 44,756,359 28,141,035 16,615,324 10. Norfolk 43,862,200 32,507,496 11,354,704 11. Chicago 36,136,148 6,144,074 29,992,074 12. Mobile 35,943,893 13,688,133 22,255,760 13. Texas City 33,583,596 13,054,236 20,529,360 14. Duluth/Superior 33,419,210 6,107,925 27,311,285 15. Long Beach 32,985,424 22,532,914 10,452,510 16. Los Angeles 31,325,506 16,826,959 14,498,547 17. Port Arthur 30,753,732 16,610,167 14,143,565 18. Marcus Hook 29,780,434 15,456,195 14,324,239 Paulsboro, NJ27,014,723 12,870,982 14,143,741 20. Boston 25,975,275 8,049,093 17,926,182 21. Lake Charles 25,401,265 9,659,975 15,741,290 22. Detroit 25,092,847 5,553,220 19,539,627 23. Pascagoula 23,832,891 11,192,207 12,640,684 24. Richmond, CA 23,823,508 11,177,603 12,645,905 25. Toledo 23,275,707 9,357,761 13,917,946 26. St. Louis 22,478,309 22,478,309 27.Portland, OR21,400,262 8,584,869 12,815,393 28. Indiana Harbor 19,958,303 3,131,011 12,827,292 29. Portland, ME 18,326,110 13,318,6415,007,469$30. Huntington, WV17,126,958 13,318,641 17,126,958

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to US ports: vital cogs in community, national partnerships
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today