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T&I Committee Panel Meets on Public Private Partnerships

On July 10, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Panel on Public-Private Partnerships, under the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) participated in a roundtable discussion on “Public Private Partnerships for America’s Waterways and Port.” The panel discussed the increased use of these partnerships in authorized Corps of Engineers projects, as outlined by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.

Because many ports have seen recovery of their import and export trade volumes, after reductions in 2008 and 2009, the panel said many are revisiting plans for expanding and upgrading and are looking to plan, finance and construct new projects. Many ports have plans to expand to accommodate larger vessels as a result of the Panama Canal expansion, and some need to expand capacity in order to stay competitive with ports in Canada. Similarly, the inland waterways system is geared for upgrades on its aging facilities.

While port facilities have some experience in working with the private sector, often in the form of leases, the issue of financing expansions raises other concerns for ports and for private sector partners, the panel noted. While investors want to guarantee their investment, and port authorities often have concerns about losing operational control and influence on future development to private sector partners.

A panel report noted the Port of Baltimore as one of the few examples in the U.S. of a port authority entering in a concessionaire agreement with the private sector. In January 2010, the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) and Ports America Chesapeake, LLC entered into a 50-year agreement for the improvement, operations and maintenance of the Seagirt Marine terminal at the Port of Baltimore. This $1.3 billion dollar project included dredging a channel to 50-foot depth to enable the Port of Baltimore to serve Post-Panamax cargo ships. Over the agreement period, the concessionaire is required to provide $378 million in fixed annual payments and $699 million in variable payments to the MPA.

Attendees at the committee panel included Jim Hannon, chief, operations and regulatory division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; John Crowley, executive director, National Association of Waterfront Employers; Mike Toohey, president and chief executive officer, Waterways Council, Inc.; and Dave Kronsteiner, president of the board of commissioners, Port of Coos Bay, Oregon.

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