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Ports Primer: 3.1 Port Operations

1.0 Ports Primer Home   2.0 The Role of Ports   3.0 How Ports Work   4.0 Port-Community Relations   5.0 Land Use and Transportation   6.0 Local and Regional Economy   7.0 Environmental Impacts   8.0 Tools and Resources   9.0 Appendix   Glossary   Endnotes
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Ports can serve a range of vesselHelpvesselA ship or large boat.s including recreational watercraft, barges, ferries, and ocean-going cargoHelpcargoThe freight (goods, products) carried by a ship, barge, train, truck or plane. and passenger ships.1 The United States has over 150 deep-draftHelpdraftThe depth of a loaded vessel in the water taken from the level of the waterline to the lowest point of the hull of the vessel; depth of water, or distance between the bottom of the ship and waterline. ports, which serve ocean-going ships.2

The way ports operate and how they are governed varies and may include state and local public entities, such as port authoritiesHelpPort 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. less Definition 2: Autonomous (independent) port authority: a self-sustaining, self-governing public body. Definition 3: Semi-autonomous (semi-independent) port authority: a public body subject to certain state controls. Definition 4: Bi-state or regional port authorities: a public body created by agreement between two or more states. Definition 5: Port authorities with limited agency or power: a public body limited to certain actions such as bonding. Definition 6: Divisions of state, county or municipal government: a government department. Definition 7: 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., port navigation districts and municipal port departments. The structure of a local port has implications for how near-port communities relate to decision makers and participate in decision-making processes.

Port vs. Port Authority3

A port is a geo-economic entity. The term refers to the collective port-related activities of a particular place that may be operated by many different entities including public, private or some combination of the two.4

A port authority is a 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.

For example, port authorities do not control private terminals, military operations or industrial facilities located in or around port facilities. However, some private tenants in ports may be subject to controls written into lease agreements.5

Opportunities are encouraged for port authorities to take a leadership role in ensuring that the entire port complex makes environmental improvements and engages constructively with local communities.

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The Port Authority’s Role in Operations6

The role of the port authority in operations can vary from port to port; however, ports often fall into one of the following two categories:

  • Operational Port: The port authority builds the wharves, owns the cranes and cargo-handling equipment, and hires the labor to move cargo in the sheds and yards. A stevedore, or labor management company, hires dockworkers to lift cargo between the ship and the dock, where the port’s laborers pick it up and bring it to the storage site.
  • Landlord Port: The port authority owns the wharves, which it then rents or leases to a terminal operator (usually a stevedoring company). The operator invests in cargo-handling equipment (forklifts, cranes, etc.), hires dockworkers to operate such lift machinery and negotiates contracts with ocean carriers to handle the unloading and loading of ship cargoes.

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Types of Cargo7

Seaports may be equipped to handle one or more kinds of cargo, including:

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Operational Ports vs. Landlord Ports


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