WJ Editorial

Moral Infrastructure As Important As Physical

As the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association (GICA) points out on its website, the association was formed in 1905, decades before there was even an identified body of water or waterway system in place. Instead, there was a network of interested and far-seeing citizens who saw the importance of waterborne trade to the region and promoted it. Other waterways, including the Mississippi River, had their own networks of champions and advocates that brought about physical improvements, with members often working in obscurity for years or decades before necessary changes were made, laws passed and funds appropriated.

As Paul Dittman, the current head of GICA, points out in this week’s issue, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is really managed by a network of closely cooperating public and private interests and bodies. Coordination and effective communication between GICA and other federal and state agencies—including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, state departments of transportation, commercial railroads and local officials—“is the critical success factor to effectively manage such a complex waterway to minimize supply chain impacts,” Dittman said.

No wonder that “[f]ostering and maintaining strong professional relationships and effective lines of communications with this extensive and diverse set of federal, state and local stakeholders is one of my most important, most challenging and most rewarding aspects of my role as GICA president,” as Dittman says.

Given the complexities of the waterway that Dittman’s organization monitors, and all the constituencies he has to deal with, we appreciate the demanding nature of his job. It’s another example of a civil society that is alive, well and helping to manage the infrastructure that keeps trade going.

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Infrastructure has been a buzzword for years. The term usually focuses on the material nuts and bolts: bridges, terminals, roads, ports and lately wind towers, the electric grid and charging stations.

As important is the moral infrastructure: the network of civil society institutions without which the entire system could not keep running, both advocacy groups and quasi-governmental advisory boards. Some of these groups and interests exist in tension with each other, but all serve the public good in different ways. Without them, it is doubtful whether the funds for the physical infrastructure would be forthcoming or properly applied.