Are you a Port Authority?
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
One of the excellent marketing efforts of one of my former employers was a factoid-based quiz attempting to raise the public’s awareness of what a port is and its mission. It was entitled, are you a port authority? The idea was to ask a ‘did you know’ question about the port and then supply an answer. The underlying premise was that people did not understand ports. Actually, you would be surprised at how few people do understand what ports are or what they do, even those who seek to do business with ports.
One of the more fundamental issues of confusion about ports concerns their legal nature. The word authority has become synonymous with the description of a port – thus the port authority. I would surmise this comes from one of the largest and oldest ports in the United States; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which became one of the focus points of the tragedies of 911 and, to some extent, led to the genericization of the term.
But most ports are not authorities; they are, in fact, special districts. For example, in Washington State, there are 77 ports, and not one of them is an authority. What is an authority, and how does it differ from a district? Maybe a better question is why you should care? Well, the legal structure of a port has a lot to do with what floats their boat (pun intended). Authorities can best be described as some organization’s child, a dependent if you will. In contrast, a district is independent or emancipated from its parent State to the extent allowed by law. This difference has a dramatic impact on how that entity will approach your project, concession, or lease.
If you are in business, you know that you are wasting your time when you are not talking to a decision-maker or at least someone who influences the decision-maker. In a later post, I will discuss who the decision-maker is at the port and why the legal form matters.