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Ports Primer: 3.2 Port Governance

Link to Home Page of Ports Primer for Communities   Link to Section 2, The Role of Ports   Link to Section 3, How Ports Work   Link to Section 4, Port-Community Relations   Link to Section 5.0, Land Use and Transportation   Link to Section 6, Local and Regional Economy   Link to Section 7, Environmental Impacts   Link to Section 8, Tools and Resources   Link to Section 9, Appendix   Link to Glossary for Ports Primer   Link to Endnotes for Ports Primer
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State and local governments are important players in port governance and in oversight of transportation projects that may affect ports. Private corporations may also play a role if they lease or own a terminal at a port. Roles and potential entities involved in decision-making may include:

  • Regional, state or local port authority
  • Divisions of state, county or municipal government
  • Independent port or navigation district
  • Private corporations (terminal lessees or owners)

Treaties between specific nations may stipulate additional regulations for ports and port-going vessels.

Port Agency Types1

The agencies that govern ports may vary considerably, so it is important to understand the authority and responsibilities of the port agencyHelpport agency or Port AuthorityA government entity. A port authority may own facilities in one or more ports, and a port authority’s domain may include both seaports and airports. It may be difficult to tell visually where the control of a port authority ends. For example, port authorities do not control private terminals (except in as much as landlord ports can impose lease-based controls on private terminal tenants), military operations and industrial facilities located in or around port facilities. near you. Common examples include:

  • Autonomous (independent) port authority: a self-sustaining, self-governing public body
  • Semi-autonomous (semi-independent) port authority: a public body subject to certain state controls
  • Bi-state or regional port authorities: a public body created by agreement between two or more states
  • Port authorities with limited agency or power: a public body limited to certain actions such as bonding
  • Divisions of state, county or municipal government: a government department
  • Independent port or navigation districts: entities that function as “special purpose” political subdivisions of a state with defined geographic boundaries over which they have authority.

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Port Authority Jurisdiction2

The purpose of a port authority is to serve the public interest of a state, region or locality. Therefore, partnering with a port authority to address community needs and priorities can help create positive community change. The jurisdiction of port authorities can vary widely; however, port authorities are typically empowered to:

Some port authorities also have authority over transportation infrastructure, industrial parks, foreign trade zones, world trade centers, shipyards, commercial vessels, dredgesHelpdredge The process of removing sediment from harbor or river bottoms for safety purposes and to allow for deeper vessels., and marinas and other public recreational facilities. Many are responsible for maintaining port security and enforcing port authority ordinances. Some exercise regulatory powers, such as licensing of stevedores. Others are responsible for management of environmental assets or enforcement of local or state environmental and land use regulations.

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Governing Boards and Commissions3

Each of the 126 U.S. public seaport agencies has a unique structure for its governing body; however, these bodies fall into several general categories:

  • Appointed governing bodies (77)
  • Elected governing bodies (24)
  • Indirectly elected governing bodies (4)
  • No governing bodies (21)

Appointments are typically made by a representative of state or local government (e.g. a governor, mayor or board of county commissioners). Some port authority charters may provide specific criteria for the selection of appointees.

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Coordinating with Port Staff

Individuals who sit on most governing boards and commissions usually participate on a part time basis. Most ports have a director who reports to a commission or board. Larger ports usually have environmental staff. Because the staff are responsible for implementing port policies, community residents may achieve best results by coordinating closely with appropriate port staff.

Community members should contact their local port to better understand local governance and operation structures. A list of questions the community could ask the port can be found on page 1 of EPA's Community Action Roadmap.4

See next section for more detailed information.

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Port Communications with the Public

An important way to involve community members in decisions is through communication about upcoming port meetings, newly proposed infrastructure projects, notices of environmental impact documents and more. Some ports post agendas, minutes and videos of board or commission meetings.

More information: Port of Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles.

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