BrownWater News August 2010

DOT selects Marine Highway projects and initiatives

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced the selection of eight projects and six initiatives that will be eligible for federal assistance under America’s Marine Highway Program.

The projects and initiatives were chosen by the Maritime Administration from 35 applications submitted by ports and local transportation agencies. LaHood said that the designated projects are also eligible to compete for future Marine Highway federal funding, including $7 million in initial funding now being made available, and for which applications are due Aug. 27.

To date, the Department of Transportation has awarded $58 million in grants for projects to support the start-up or expansion of Marine Highway services.

The selected projects include: Cross Sound Enhancements Project (Connecticut Department of Transportation); New England Marine Highway Expansion Project (Maine Department of Transportation); Cross Gulf Container Expansion Project (Ports of Manatee, Fla., and Brownsville, Texas); Tenn-Tom Freight Project (Port Itawamba, Miss.); Gulf Atlantic Marine Highway Project (South Carolina State Ports Authority and Port of Galveston, Texas); Detroit/Wayne County Ferry Project (Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority); Trans-Hudson Rail Service Project (Port Authority of New York & New Jersey); and James River Container Expansion Project (Virginia Port Authority).

The six initiatives along the selected corridors were identified by LaHood as:

Hudson River Food Corridor Initiative (New York City Soil & Water Conservation District); New Jersey Marine Highway Initiative (New Jersey Department of Transportation); East Coast Marine Highway Initiative (Ports of Baltimore; New Bedford, Mass.; and Canaveral, Fla.); West Coast Hub-Feeder Initiative (Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District); Golden State Marine Highway Initiative (California ports of Redwood City, Hueneme and San Diego, and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District); Illinois-Gulf Marine Highway Initiative (Heart of Illinois Regional Port District).

In recent testimony on Capitol Hill, Maritime Administrator David T. Matsuda talked of the upcoming list of Marine Highway projects and told the House Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee that one of his agency’s goals is to help make this country’s national transportation system “more environmentally sustainable and economically competitive.”

 “For too long,” he said, “America has overlooked the economic and environmental benefits of moving domestic goods on the water. We are changing all that with our America’s Marine Highway Program initiative.”

For more details about the Marine Highway initiative, corridors and projects, contact Cheron Victoria Wicker at (202) 366-5067.

House panel approves new WRDA legislation

The Water Resources Development Act of 2010 (WRDA 2010), a bill that authorizes about $6 billion for water resources studies and construction projects by the Army Corps of Engineers, has been approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Since December of 2009, the committee received over 2,000 individual requests from both Republican and Democratic members for potential projects and studies to be included in the water resources development bill,” said Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the committee. “Those projects have been closely reviewed and vetted to ensure that the American people get the best bang for their buck. This is a tightly constructed bill designed to meet high-priority needs of communities within the bounds of the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), less than happy with the measure, said that while the bill (H.R. 5892) may contain almost 300 project-specific provisions, “Noticeably absent from the (legislation) is any spending permission for long-neglected maintenance of locks, dams and other inland waterway infrastructure.”

WCI said the bill would require all harbor maintenance tax funds be used for navigation maintenance dredging of ports “instead of being held in reserve to mask the deficit. But there is no aid for inland waterways in the legislation, save for a couple of tiny projects on minor tributaries.”

The navigation projects referred to by WCI called for studies of the Detroit River, Wyandotte, Mich.; Stouts Creek, Lacey Township, N.J.; Brown’s River, Nassau County, N.Y., and Detroit Harbor, Wis.

Cornel Martin, president of the council, said WCI tried to get the committee to include the Inland Waterways Capital Development Plan in the WRDA 2010 bill, but was informed that discussions with the administration and within Congress about shaping inland waterway policy had not been completed by the time of the vote.

Last December, the Inland Waterways Users Board, comprising industry stakeholders and the Corps, completed the Capital Development Plan, prioritizing infrastructure improvements for the next 20 years and making the recommendations related to project management and funding. 

The plan includes a recommended increase in the diesel fuel tax to fund navigation projects. Funding would have to be approved by the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, but there’s no indication that the proposed legislation or the congressional funding mechanism would see the light of day before the 111th Congress adjourns.

More than 200 industry stakeholders have endorsed the development plan, which calls for a $7.6 billion investment program, including $380 million a year for construction projects and $60 million a year for major rehabilitation projects.

Instead of the proposed lockage fee, revenue would come from a 30 to 45 percent increase in the existing diesel fuel tax of 20 cents per gallon that is paid by the barge and towing industry.

AWO denies that Jones Act impedes Gulf oil spill cleanup

Thomas Allegretti, president and CEO of the American Waterways Operators, assured reporters July 13 that the Jones Act does not impede cleanup operations being conducted in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Jones Act mandates the use of American vessels and American workers in U.S. domestic maritime trade.

“No foreign-flag vessel has been denied the opportunity to participate in the oil spill cleanup and response as a result of the Jones Act,” Allegretti said. The only vessels that may have been denied access to the site were those offering equipment unsuitable for the cleanup.

Asked if he knew of reasons for demands that the Jones Act be repealed if the law has no role in the cleanup, Allegretti said, “At no time has the Jones Act inhibited the cleanup and in no case have we declined an offer of assistance because of the Jones Act or other cabotage laws. I can’t speak as to the motivation of those who have suggested repeal of the law but we are concerned about the fact that it is apparently based on misinformation about how the Jones Act has not impeded the cleanup.”

Allegretti was one of four maritime executives participating in a 30-minute telephone press conference to discuss the Jones Act and its role in the Deepwater Horizon oil cleanup.

Corps spending bills await final approval

The House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittees have approved fiscal year 2011 spending bills for the civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its bill, but the House panel has not.

The House bill would allocate $5.28 billion for the Corps, up from the White House proposed budget of $4.9 billion, but still a decrease from the $5.45 billion allocated for the current fiscal year.

The subcommittee’s Corps recommendation includes $1.85 billion for construction, down from $2 billion this year; $2.53 billion for operation and maintenance, down from $2.40 billion this year; and $131 million for investigations, down from $160 million this year.

“This bill restores more than $400 million in water resource investments that the president’s budget request cut from fiscal year 2010,” said Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.). “Through this additional funding, we will protect our communities while enhancing our nation’s economic competitiveness by constructing nationally important infrastructure.”

On the Senate side, the subcommittee approved a $5.32 billion funding level for the Corps, restoring $413 million of the nearly $500 million that the president sought to cut. The Senate bill (S. 3635), passed by the Senate committee in July, would spend $1.8 billion for construction, $2.5 billion for operation and maintenance, and $166 million for investigations.

House panel seeks towing vessel inspections

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has urged Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to release the long-awaited notice of proposed rulemaking on towing vessel inspection.

In a letter to Napolitano, Oberstar said that by releasing the vessel inspection notice, her department could avoid charges of “inadequate government oversight and a failure of government to live up to its responsibilities.” 

Oberstar pointed to those charges that were heard following the Upper Big Branch Mine accident in West Virginia that killed 29 miners and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Legislation adding towing vessels to the list of vessels subject to Coast Guard inspection and authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to establish a safety management system requirement for towing vessels was passed by Congress in 2004. The bill was supported by the American Waterways Operators.

Oberstar warned Napolitano that if her department does not release and implement its rulemaking, the towing industry, mariners and the public will face more towing vessel accidents of the kind that prompted Congress to act in 2004.

Bill would disconnect Mississippi River from Lake Michigan

In a new attack against Asian carp, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and nine Senate colleagues have introduced a bill designed to disconnect the Mississippi River from Lake Michigan. The separation would be done in such a way as to prevent the transfer of aquatic species, namely the Asian carp, from one basin to the other.

The bill (S. 3553) itself would require the secretary of the Army to study the feasibility of the hydrological separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. The 18-month study would include options to address waterway safety operations, and to address barge and recreational vessel traffic alternatives.

Nile Cargo eyes bigger share of barge traffic

It should interest the U.S. barge and towing industry to learn that Nile Cargo, an Egyptian company, has taken delivery of the first in a series of new barges to augment its fleet of 31 reconditioned vessels.

Citadel Capital, Nile Cargo’s parent company, said that about 95 percent of Egypt’s freight traffic is hauled on highways, resulting in excessive emissions and highway safety issues.

 “Nile Cargo will offer not just a greener, more fuel-efficient solution, but a solution that will help ease safety concerns on the nation’s highways as it captures more and more market share,” Citadel said. The new 100-meter barges will double the capacity of the 50-meter hulls now in use.

About the Author:

Carlo Salzano has been in journalism since graduating from La Salle University in 1948 as a chemistry major. That’s right, chemistry. He began his career as a copy boy at the Philadelphia Inquirer, before moving on to United Press International in Philadelphia, Charleston, West Virgina, Baltimore and Washington. After 14 years, Carlo joined Traffic World magazine and stayed on for 23 years, retiring as editor in 1990. A majority of Carlo’s time at Traffic World was spent covering the maritime community and he continued on in the maritime field while freelancing throughout his “retirement.” He is married and has three children and eight grandchildren.

By Professional Mariner Staff