A Unified Voice for the Ports

Founded more than a century ago, the American Association of Port Authorities continues to advocate for the best interests of the entire maritime industry.

There’s a popular and somewhat humorous saying in the maritime industry, said Shawn Balcomb of the American Association of Port Authorities:

“If you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port.”

Different cargo. Different industries served. Different operational methods. Different topographical and geographical benefits. Different infrastructure. Different intermodal capabilities. The list goes on and on.

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And yet, in spite of the many unique facets found in North American seaports, the end-goal mission of all of them has forever remained the same: to transport goods safely and efficiently. Since its founding in 1912, the American Association of Port Authorities – a membership group of 130 public seaports in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and sections of central America – has fought to ensure that vital mission gets accomplished.

“We are the chief advocacy group for America’s seaports in Washington D.C., and our job is to
make sure policymakers, their staff, and folks in the executive branch understand how important and how critical ports are to the nation from both an economic standpoint and a national security standpoint,” said Balcomb, AAPA’s Public Affairs Manager. “The fact that our association has stood the test of time for more than 100 years proves that maritime commerce — shipping items and raw materials by water — isn’t going away. It’s environmentally friendly and cost effective.”

Balcomb said the reason they’re still relevant today is to make certain that the support needed for the country to continue having a flourishing maritime industry is understood and ultimately addressed. That includes infrastructure improvement, equipment advancements, berths, rail connectivity, to name a few.

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To maintain connectivity between members, AAPA hosts or sponsors several in-person and remote seminars and expos per year. At these meetings, leadership from different ports discuss and formulate strategies to address hot-button issues affecting maritime industries, as well as exchange beneficial concepts and problem- solving methods amongst each other.

For example, executives from member ports who faced unexpected, destructive weather occurrences have reached out to their AAPA brethren at the Port of South Louisiana to borrow gameplans used in the recent past on how to best reboot operations safely and quickly following natural disasters like hurricanes and tropical storms.

“AAPA has created an atmosphere in which ports can collaborate and share best practices, which is invaluable,” said Micah Cormier, the Port of South Louisiana’s Director of Communications. “If something works, we’re quick to share with our member ports and vice versa.”

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Cormier said that while there are practices specific to our own ports, the commonalities in what
they do and what these ports are responsible for accomplishing lead to opportunities to further professional development amongst the membership.

AAPA also advocates for professional advancement within the maritime industry through a series of educational initiatives, such as the association’s “Port Professional Management Program” (PPM). Typically, accepted applicants in this certification program are mid-level port staff on track to develop into future leaders and port executives. Program “students” go through a series of educational courses with hourly requirements to learn about aspects of the maritime industry outside of their professional focus or specialty.

For instance, a port staffer who focuses day-to-day on community relations or government affairs will be exposed to the nuances of different operational matters such as facilities & engineering. Conversely, a manager enrolled in the PPM who oversees manufacturing or industrial operations will become well-versed in the business negotiations and pressing matters involving federal and state agencies.

Currently, AAPA and its members have pinpointed permitting inefficiencies as a must-address crisis in need of immediate reform. While recent federal funding for infrastructure projects has and will benefit this country’s seaports, the sluggish and burdensome permitting process required before beginning these vital projects has unnecessarily slowed progress.

As it stands now, the U.S. Department of Transportation is not allowed to use environmental reviews conducted by other agencies — like the EPA or Department of Energy — when granting a permit, which can bog down the green-light process. To rectify that procedural inefficiency, AAPA has lobbied lawmakers to introduce new legislation to fix the issue or grant a “categorical exclusion” for maritime infrastructure projects so that valid and recent environmental reviews from other government agencies can fulfill the permitting requirements.

“Common sense tells you that it shouldn’t take longer for an infrastructure project to be permitted that it does for that same project to be built or constructed,” Balcomb said. “But unfortunately, under the current permitting construct, that does happen. And to keep our ports competitive in the global marketplace, that process needs to be thorough, yes, but expedited, as well.”

On a local level, leaders from the Port of South Louisiana and neighboring AAPA member ports continue to address the importance of dredging the lower Mississippi River from 45 to 50 feet – a depth that enables larger Panamax vessels safe passage when transporting dry bulk and liquid bulk to and from the Gulf of Mexico. This cost-efficiency measure not only affects Louisiana industries but also farmers from America’s Heartland that ship grain from the Midwest down through lower Mississippi River cargo channels like the Port of South Louisiana.

“If you take the five [Louisiana] ports located on the lower Mississippi River which are in close proximity of one another, it accounts for the largest port complex in the world,” Cormier said. “So when we’re able to come together as one as we do through the Ports Association of Louisiana at the state level, and then from there to the national level through AAPA, it allows us to share our story, share why what we do is so important for the overall health of maritime commerce throughout the world, and why addressing the needs of our ports on the lower Mississippi River is so essential.”

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