The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 – It Must Evolve

President Obama recently signed into law The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, the first harbor development legislation since 2007, introducing what some would call “sweeping” changes to the user fee structure established in 1986. This historic 1986 legislation established user fees to fill a Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be used to maintain the nation’s shipping channels.

A few things went wrong in the journey from 1986 to 2007 to 2014, the primary of which was that the Trust Fund has been used to help offset the federal budget instead of supporting the nation’s foreign commerce by keeping shipping channels to their full, federally authorized depths.

The 1986 legislation also created some inequalities among ports, big ports with naturally deep harbors collecting user fees to be used by competitors, or other ports without the benefit of geography or nationally significant cargo volumes. Late to the discussion was the notion that the user fees caused the diversion of US West Coast ports’ cargo to their Canadian counterparts.
The new legislation nobly attempts to address all of these issues though almost-necessarily, perhaps unduly complicated mechanisms, in contradiction to the purity of 1986 legislation that spawned the issues mentioned, above, among others.

Hopefully, the 2014 legislation will be viewed not as a final triumph, but rather a victory in one skirmish to impose some common sense to the way this country approaches port development. In other words, it must evolve and mature, which the 1986 legislation did not.

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Article in the Journal of Commerce

by Stan Payne