Shipping clamor is mounting over the White House's supposed neglect of seaports. Most notably, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) has been banging away on the need for more dredging and channel widening on both coasts.
Mike Leone, AAPA chairman and port director for the Massachusetts Port Authority has just penned an op-ed entitled "Port Crisis". Focusing on Boston, he laments that a proposal to deepen the harbor has been shelved by the Army Corps of Engineers after years of shilly-shallying and says the same problems are being faced at ports across the country.
He calls for a special technical center devoted to deep-draft study and also weighs into the debate about the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund – noting that "port and harbor users are paying for full maintenance but only getting half in return" from the annual revenue of $1.4 billion.
Grizzled port types (with apologies to the women executives) are wincing slightly at Leone getting involved outside strict technical port matters, because they reckon it dilutes the lobbying effect on Congress and the White House. As any lobbyist worth their K Street salary will vouch, "stick to the facts."
A school of deep-draft studies is a pet project in certain circles, but that area of expertise is covered by engineering faculties on both coasts. Setting up a separate institution seems to be adding another layer to an already large and multi-decked cake. It also smacks of empire building, which politicians can spot a mile off because they are so busy at it themselves.
Venturing into the Trust Fund is even dicier. The "fund" is seen as being as far away from a trust as possible and is nothing more than a tax or subsidy, say many foreign countries, and is often cited as cause for complaint to the World Trade Organization. Some container lines and port executives are not that keen on it anyway.
Granted, AAPA's real point is that the money is being diverted from the maritime sector – but the underlying assumption is that the fund is essential.
If instead there were a suggestion for a different way to get money without tax, the politicians would really take notice.
Also, credit should be given where it's due. This year will mark the end of the 20-year program by ACE to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel to 43 feet. Of course, someone will beef that the channel should be 45 feet.