Brownwater News, April 2018

Olmsted Locks and Dam to be in operation by October

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that the long-awaited Olmsted Locks and Dam project on the Ohio River will go into operation by October. At that time, locking will be transferred to Olmsted from Locks and Dams 52 and 53, which have been in operation for nearly 90 years.

In February, when the Corps unveiled details of its proposed $4.8 billion Civil Works program for fiscal year 2019, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief of the Corps, said that the money included $5.25 million from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to complete the Olmsted project. Ryan Fisher, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, added that the intent of the proposed budget is that "out of the 26-some construction projects, Olmsted is funded to completion in FY 2019.”

"We’re actually going to bring it (Olmsted) online," said Edward Belk, chief of Civil Works program integration. "It won’t be physically complete, construction won’t be physically complete, but it will be operational in October of this year.”

Ports group happy with FY 2018 spending package

Kurt Nagle, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), said that members of the group have “increased confidence” now that their key priorities will be addressed after passage of an omnibus spending package to fund the federal government through Sept. 30.

The spending bill that President Trump signed March 23 contains funding for a number of AAPA’s top infrastructure and intermodal priorities, both on the water side and the land side.

On the water side, the bill includes $6.83 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, an increase of $789 million from fiscal year 2017. The bill funds the Corps’ navigation program at $3 billion, with $123 million for general investigations, $2 billion for construction and $200 million for the Corps’ regulatory program. The Corps’ operations and maintenance program is funded at $3.63 billion, with $1.4 billion coming from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, an increase of $100 million over last year’s appropriation.

On the land side, the fiscal year 2018 bill triples funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program to $1.5 billion from FY 2017.

The bill also requires the administration to include six new studies and five new construction starts in the Corps’ work plan. Also important to the ports is the $980 million provided for the Maritime Administration (MarAd), an increase of $457 million over FY 2017 appropriations. Among the MarAd programs important to ports is the Marine Highways program, which has been allocated $7 million for FY 2018, up from the $5 million appropriated last year.

Inland waterways in Trump's infrastructure plans

President Trump recently made public numerous proposals designed to improve the nation’s infrastructure, including that of the inland waterways. Among the proposals was one suggesting expansion of the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority to engage in long-term contracts.

The president said that allowing the secretary of the Army to enter into contracts for up to 50 years would enable the Corps to engage in the full life-cycle management of infrastructure assets in the program.

Furthermore, Trump proposed to deauthorize certain federal Civil Works projects. The president said that streamlining the deauthorization process would release federal and non-federal resources to be used for other purposes.

The president also proposed amending the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to allow for a waiver of cost limits. Allowing such a waiver on the recommendation of the secretary of the Army would provide flexibility to avoid delays in completing infrastructure projects, Trump said.

Schultz named new Coast Guard commandant

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was “pleased” with President Trump’s nomination March 8 of Vice Adm. Karl Schultz to be the 26th commandant of the Coast Guard.

“Vice Adm. Schultz has over 35 years of Coast Guard leadership experience, and I have complete confidence in his ability to lead the men and women of the Coast Guard with honor and integrity,” Nielsen said.

Trump and Schultz, commander of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, also selected Vice Adm. Charles Ray as vice commandant. Ray moves up from Coast Guard deputy commandant for operations.

New start date set for WOTUS rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army have announced a new start-up date — Feb. 6, 2020 — for the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

The new date was set after the Supreme Court ruled that legal challenges to the WOTUS rule belonged in district courts, not appeals courts. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the current rule developed in 2015 will not be applicable for the next two years “while we provide long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation.”

Seaway opens 2018 navigation season

The Montreal/Lake Ontario section and the Welland Canal of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System opened their 2018 navigation system March 29.

Vessel transits were subject to weather and ice conditions. Restrictions could apply in some areas until lighted navigation aids have been installed.

The Sault Ste. Marie Locks (U.S.) opened on March 25.

Corps sees Nome as possible Alaska ocean port

Federal officials are taking another look at the Alaska community of Nome — the first was in 2008 — as a possible port serving ships heading for the Arctic.

The Army Corps of Engineers has signed an agreement with the city of Nome to examine whether benefits justify the costs of navigation improvements, said Bruce Sexauer, chief of Civil Works for the Corps’ Alaska District. The process generally takes three years.

Alaska lacks deepwater ports along most of its west and northwest coast. The nearest Coast Guard station is Kodiak, more than 800 miles away. A study in 2008 favored Nome because of its infrastructure, such as airport, hospital and fuel supply facilities.

Seaway cargo volume tops 38 million tons in 2017

The St. Lawrence Seaway's 2017 navigation season ended with more than 38 million metric tons of cargo moved, up 9 percent over the 2016 season.

The Seaway reported that a steady volume of iron ore, steel, grain, salt, cement, containerized goods and project cargo, including windmill components and oversized machinery, kept vessels “extremely busy throughout the year” on the waterway.

By Professional Mariner Staff