Oswego New York – A Few Photos from My Walkabout

Just a few shots from walking around the Oswego New York waterfront over the New Year’s Eve weekend.

Dewatering the lock…always amazed how a young New York State recognized locks and dams were critical for its economic prosperity…

I did the first-day hike at Fort Ontario and got some great shots of the jetties while learning about the Fort’s history. I toured the historic graveyard, which turned the hike, despite the cold, was a pleasant afternoon. As I have learned over my travels, every place has a story to tell. I just need to stop to hear the whispers of its past.

The Fort’s Role in U.S. History
I built up an appetite after the hike. Good food always tastes better with great friends.

Investing in the 4’s I’s: Infrastructure, Information, Institutional, and Intangibles

In 2006, I made this presentation at UNCTAD on Information and communications technologies (ICTs).  I thought I would post it now, as many of the same issues from 15 years ago remain relevant today. 

Supporting the growth of international trade requires providing safe and secure borders that do not overly burden shipments moving through those same facilities.  First, the world is becoming more integrated through telecommunications and transportation: a topic expressed through many UNCTAD documents over the past few years.  This interdependency between regions indicates the growing need to improve the facilities that handle trade and information exchanges.  I will try to discuss ICT in the context of the four broad areas: Infrastructure, Information, Institutional, and Intangibles. 


Generally, this is the first area people consider when handling international trade.  It is the most important – without facilities to receive and work cargos, trade will be impossible.  We can point to many facilities throughout the world that are underutilized for several reasons.  One of these failures involves understanding location – trade facilitation usually involves a three-mile section in a three thousand mile movement.  Carriers and shippers benefit when the goods move – there are no “roadblocks”.  Significant delays can occur at transactional points, borders, and ports.  There is a disconnect regarding using a facility and developing a facility for future use.  There are problems with planning for infrastructure – generally, it involves a “lumpy” large-scale investment or incremental improvements to an existing structure.  This “either/or” investment approach underlines the fact that infrastructure improvements require the spending of real funds – funds generally secured by either the public sector planning process or private sector investment.  The need exists to service growing traffic, but physical constraints may limit expanding existing terminals quickly to handle unexpected cargo growth.  This inability to move funding to improve physical capacity raises concerns that existing border crossings or ports\terminals may become practically obsolete before becoming physically outdated as the larger ships and operational changes leave facilities and networks unable to service surging demand.

Regarding ICT, this can result in additional challenges – such as the size and location of offices, the ability to maintain the facility once developed, and the roads and other networks that support the facility.  Improving system performance may become a problem in the United States.  According to a survey done by the Federal Highway Administration seven years ago, the worst roads on the national highway system were the small connector roads linking ports.  Intelligent Transportation Systems and driver notifications can improve operational patterns in a facility or on local roads.  Also, the Federal Highway Administration conducted several studies to develop simulation models of border crossings and performance measurements for operational improvement.  Other studies sought to examine the travel time associated with specific border facilities.  Finally, I worked with Transport Canada and the American Trucking Research Institution on using satellite technology to develop travel time measures for trucks.  By understanding the nature of traffic around a port or border crossing, one can create a systems approach that would allow greater driver notification beyond movement to the first checkpoint to the entire system. 


This area has seen some exciting changes in the past few years.  Telecommunications and computer technologies have resulted in people expecting data and information to be available on a real-time basis.  The private sector shippers and carriers have developed this information not to share with local ports and border crossings but to capture benefits from controlling costs and inventories.  Furthermore, the development of 3rd party logistics firms and the resulting integration of shippers and carriers in shipment decisions have resulted in additional operational gains while adding more complexity to the system. 

At the same time, the development of automated customs manifest and shipper notifications has been developing.  In the U.S., the movement to a single Automated Manifest system has been a tedious process, given the coordination that involves over 70 agencies on data regarding international shipments.  

Operational information sharing between the public and private sectors remains a growing need.  In Southern California, the Pier Pass system has successfully reduced truck delays at container ports.  Along the U.S. – Canadian border, expedited shipments are now available to shippers and carriers approved by U.S. Customs.  Several electronic tracking options should be considered to improve the productivity of the navigation system.  For inland ports, the Smartlock system, being evaluated by the Port of Pittsburgh, utilizes Geographical Positioning Systems to locate representative points on the towboats and barges.  By using GPS technology, a pilot could move a barge through a lock or channel, even during times of limited visibility. 


In the developed world, we are moving from the age of expansive infrastructure construction to the age of maintenance and institutional partnerships.  In some regards, developing countries have jumped over the developed world in seeing ways to build public-private partnerships to improve trade facilitation.   But in both cases, the institutional barrier to implementing changes to ports and border crossings exist.  There are no single entities responsible for freight movements at ports and borders.  At what level should the private sector discussion occur: at the port, the drayage operator, the shipper, or the carrier?  What is the public sector role: is it defined by the port, customs authorities, local departments of transportation, and other federal or state agencies?  Each group needs information on activities at the port or border crossing in some areas but at different time frames and scales.  For example, the private sector is examining events within the context of a few days – such as securing the necessary documents or the trucks to move the cargo to or from a border crossing.  The public sector responds to goods already in transition or very long-range planning activities.  Although standard features exist, the specific information needed for these different levels is not the same. 

I hate stating the obvious –ports and borders are geographic entities.  They cannot respond quickly to changing national or local policies and can not simply move to take advantage of opportunities.  For example, in the early 1990s, California decided to remove the tax exception for bunker fuels.  This tax led to a dramatic loss of bunker business and changed costs associated with charter movements along the west coast.  Although the tax was later repealed, the industry adjusted to alternative sourcing options, resulting in a loss of revenue to the bunkering industry.

Furthermore, the potential challenge of locally active participation by other groups concerning current and future use of specific facilities may change a facility’s competitive position.  While trade facilitation seeks to improve cargo movement through a facility, in some cases, local groups have sought to reduce traffic because of concerns over externalities such as traffic congestion, noise, and air emissions.  This potential disruption from other local or national policies should be considered, especially if addressing security concerns may offset improving ICT. 


Port and border crossing planners and operators must not assume that building a facility will guarantee its success.  Other factors outside of the ICT framework can shape the ultimate success of a gateway facility.  In the past, transportation was associated with production decisions, while networks developed around production and consumption regions.  In the new global business paradigm, low-cost technology and flexile production and logistics support have changed investment in plant and equipment from a more long-term framework to simply being five to seven-year assets.  With the potential for rapid turnovers in production locations and operations, the importance of linking transportation and economic growth remains even more critical. 

In this new global network, transportation is geographically blind.  Ports and borders are now interchangeable links in the system, not a separate component of transportation activity.  An example involves the U.S. West Coast.  In 2003, failed labor negotiations led to a coastal shutdown along the U.S. West Coast.  Since then, shippers are becoming increasingly concerned about controlling transportation costs and system reliability.  If a shipper feels that one port range is too crowded or that problems exist, that shipper may switch to either another carrier or port for some or all shipments.

While not necessarily an ICT function, the Corps of Engineers is developing a suite of products to examine the interchange between national and international policy, national planning, and specific operational and planning models.  The Navigation Economic Technology System (NETS) seeks to explain how the system relates to itself.  One of these tools is the development of the Regional Routing Model, which aims to develop an economic model of multiport relationships either within a national context or within specific trade corridors.  Other tools include a global grain model of trade flows that can be used for policy analysis and simulation models for harbors and inland navigation.  The NETS program will release these tools into the public domain once they are completed and hopefully show the interaction with freight facilities and the need for nations to consider these facilities in the context of other policies. 

Tech Transference to Developing Countries

In viewing developing countries’ infrastructure needs from some distance, the potential exists for transference to the developing countries under certain circumstances.  These considerations include recognizing that the developing world does not have the same infrastructure and institutions as in developing countries, which means the level of funding or coordination is much different.  We should not necessarily hold developing countries accountable to the same standard of operational activity within a short time once a technology transference occurs.   Finally, the developed world needs to approach the developing countries as peers and commit to long-term training and personnel development.  


Improving transportation means so much more than it did fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago, incorporating concerns over flexibility, improving operations, and positioning for handling uncertain traffic forecasts.  Ports and borders must be more accountable to the carriers, shippers, and other groups.  New approaches that balance infrastructure, information, and institutional changes may be necessary to ensure that trade remains a critical component to sustain economic growth.  Generally, these discussions on needs tend to focus on the “infrastructure” question.  How do we build the system, and what do we need to spend to make it work?  These questions are essential to answer, but the most significant gap may remain the intangible: changing how people comprehend the value of borders and ports and how to improve capacity both now and in the future.

When I gave this speech, I was so nerovus I rattled off too fast, leaving the interputers behind.  But as a few things, such as the NETS program, have stopped, the work on integration, modeling and technology has continued.  It will be interesting to revisit this speech in another 15 years to see what changed!

The Goal of Training: “You Must Be the Weapon Before You Can Use a Weapon”.

I was thinking about how to return to my martial arts training as gyms start opening up, especially about how do I improve both my conditioning and rusted skills. Unlike the Karate Kid, there is no Sensei telling me to “Wax On, or Wax Off”, as I must prepare before I can compete safely. The Karate Kid did not quite comprehend his situation until Sensei forced him to link his conditioning to skill development, but I know a little more than he did.

Frequently, the mind and the body tread divergent paths, unclear as to either the route or the destination. For Daniel, he had to have the techniques demonstrated before his eyes to see his own development. However, not everyone who trains learns, as the following video shows a young soldier struggling to feel secure in the African Savannah (Adumu).

In many ways, the lion killer was a warrior: he assessed, listened, and executed. The young soldier, scared, full of adrenaline, etc., was unable to defend himself, even with a more formidable weapon. In the end, the warrior remained a warrior, a weapon, even when he left the spear behind for the other.

In both videos, the more inexperienced fighter did not grasp what he learned until he was shown the deficiency of his training. So, not only must I prepare my body for training, but I must prepare my mind also. 

The moral of the two stories could be summed up by a quote from Jason Bogden, “You must be the weapon before you can use a weapon”.  Over the course of the Karate Kid, Daniel learns to effectively execute his training, much like the taller warrior was able to do at the moment of the lion attack. And frankly, that is good advice for anyone getting ready to face not only other fighters but life itself.

Visiting the Port of Zeebrugge

While attending a course on Maritime Supply Chains at the University of Antwerp, we visited the Port of Zeebrugge.

There is a saying that if you see one port, you have seen them all. Others will say, if you see one port, you have only seen one port. I would add when you see one port, you see one port for that day, as traffic patterns can change quite a bit. That was the issue here, as several presenters discussed the lower traffic in the port was the result decline after a surge of cargo moved to Britain prior to the last Brexit deadline.

After a great introductory presentation, we drove around the port, which handles a lot of autos! We first toured the facilities in the morning, while it rained, only to see it clear up later that day.

One auto storage facility, we saw in the afternoon! No rain!
Yes, typical bus tour in the rain! Notice the cranes, COSCO shipping will move to Zeebruggee, but there was little international containers when compared to the containers moving to/from Britain.
We even watched a ship pass the sealock outside the port administration building.

The question of Brexit remained a constant topic. The Port of Zeebrugge is a major gateway between Europe and the United Kingdom. Traffic through Zeebrugge remains integrated into supply chains for British retailers, even to the point of handling larger trucks, which are allowed in the UK, but not in the EU.

It was a great visit, hearing the presenters talk about importing fresh fruit, how interdependent the UK was for EU firms stocking their shelves, and how the port itself developed. (There is a lot of rail in Zeebrugee. They can build European block trains at the port.)

Intermodal trains at the Port of Zeebrugee

It was a great visit, but at the end of a long day, sometimes you are just ready to take the bus back!

Joining a Panel on “Conceptualizing the Economic Impacts of a Mississippi River Avulsion”

I hope you can join me at  Challenges of Natural Resource Economics and Policy
6th National Forum on Socioeconomic Research in Coastal Systems

May 19-21, 2019 • New Orleans, LA • Royal Sonesta Hotel

The Mississippi River is normally considered to be a fixed entity.  Old Man River just keeps Rollin’ and Rollin’, but really the river is a dynamic entity, creating and responding to the environment through which it flows.  There have been many discussions regarding the Mississippi River and especially the Lower Mississippi River, as a international corridor.  The supply chains that depend upon the River are many, but so too is the socio-economic relationship of the river to the region.  I hope to do more with this work, as there is much to explore concerning supply chain risks and understanding the associated response to large asymmetrical events. (I gave a similar presentation to the New Orleans Regional Planning Council Freight Roundtable a few years ago.)  I would love to hear any comments you have on this topic, as I plan to do more research along this line. 

Here is the draft session agenda, but you can access the full agenda here. http://www.cnrep.lsu.edu/2019/index.htm

Conceptualizing the Economic Impacts of a Mississippi River Avulsion (Draft Agenda)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019
1:30 am to 3 pm

Lynn Kennedy, Louisiana State University

Discussion Panel

James Barnet, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (retired)  
Patrice Lazard, Louisiana State University  
Bruce Lambert, Metro Analytics  
Chris Mclindon, New Orleans Geological Society  
Michael Miner, Water institute of the Gulf  

Attached is an image from the New Orleans Board of Trade, which I hope you find is an interesting graphic.