Requests for refunds of taxes paid in connection with the U.S. Customs Service “Harbor Maintenance Fee” must be submitted to and received by the U.S. Customs Service no later than December 31, 2001. This tax, or fee, was imposed pursuant to the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, which required those who benefited from the maintenance of U.S. ports and harbors to share in the cost of that maintenance. This fee was assessed on exports and other types of port use, including domestic movements between ports, passengers, foreign trade zones and imports from 1987 to 1998.
Since April of 1998, based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that Harbor Maintenance Fees as applied to exports of merchandise are unconstitutional, the Customs Service has not collected fees for such exports. In February 2000, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that exporters may use administrative procedures to claim refunds of the harbor maintenance fees and that these procedures do not impose a time limit within which such refunds may be claimed. The court acknowledged, however, that the Customs Service possessed the authority to impose time limits on refund requests. As a result, in December 2000, the Customs Service proposed to amend its regulations to require time limits for refund requests. These new regulations, which become effective on December 31, 2001, implement a one-year deadline for filing. In essence, because the Customs Service has not collected harbor maintenance fees on exports since 1998, these regulations effectively preclude the possibility of refunds after the December 31, 2001 effective date. Therefore, companies that exported commercial cargo from U.S. harbors between 1987 and 1998 should ensure that they request any refunds to which they may be entitled prior to December 31, 2001.