BrownWater News August 2012

Corps unveils new ‘Levels of Service’ initiative

Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) rallied its own members and those of two other major waterway associations in a concerted effort to help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers develop more efficient use of its shrinking revenue in the maintenance and operation of its navigation locks.

After the Corps’ district commanders began briefing navigation stakeholders about a new initiative that would establish and implement levels of operating service for locks and dams and navigation systems, WCI launched a survey among its own members and those of the American Waterways Operators (AWO) and the National Waterways Conference (NWC) to determine lockage use data.

Debra Colbert, senior vice president of WCI, said the survey is designed to help the Corps develop recommendations for hours of service that best accommodate the flow of commerce.

In unveiling its new initiative, the Corps said it had found that “constrained funding and the nation’s fiscal deficit have led to reduced operations and maintenance funding in the Corps’ Fiscal Year 2012 budget. When coupled with aging infrastructure and increasing cost of operation, it is clear that the levels of service we have been providing on the inland marine transportation system are not sustainable.”

The associations said it was their understanding that by October the Corps will begin reducing operating hours at 63 locks based on the number of commercial lockages that were recorded in 2010.

According to recent briefings provided to the Inland Waterways Users Board, levels of service will range between Full Service, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, more than 1,000 commercial lockages per year; and Service by Appointment, limited commercial traffic with no consistent pattern of lockage. Four other levels are listed as Reduced Service, two shifts per day; Limited Service, single shift; Scheduled Service, set times per day, and Weekends & Holidays.


Senate committee works on new WRDA

The National Waterways Conference (NWC) reports in its “News Alert” that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is working on a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) for possible markup next month.

“Given the earmark moratorium, the committee will not consider site-specific project authorization requests that increase the budgetary impact of a particular project or authorize funding for any new projects,” NWC said. However, the committee will consider “technical modifications to existing site-specific authorizations that will not increase the current authorized funding level for a particular project.”

The NWC said that the committee will also consider Army Corps of Engineers and water resource policy reforms to deliver Corps projects more efficiently and effectively. Other policy issues under consideration include operation and maintenance of structures on federally owned waterways, and dredging.


DOT funding to ease cargo moves at port terminals

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced the availability of funding in the amount of $1.75 billion — $750 million in fiscal year 2013 funds and $1 billion in FY 2014 funds — to provide Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) credit assistance for eligible projects.

The money was authorized pursuant to the recently enacted highway bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).

As shown in a notice published July 31 in the Federal Register, eligible projects could include “surface transportation infrastructure modifications necessary to facilitate direct intermodal transfer and access into and out of a port terminal.”

In addition to announcing the availability of the expanded funding, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also announced the establishment of the Project Finance Center to help state and local government project sponsors analyze financial options for surface transportation projects facing funding challenges.

The Federal Register notice invites comments about DOT’s implementation of MAP-21 and DOT’s guidance for awarding TIFIA credit assistance. Comments should be sent to DOT by Sept. 1.

For more information regarding the notice, contact Duane Callender at (202) 366-1059.


Waterways Users Board to discuss funding for navigation projects

The Inland Waterways Users Board has scheduled a meeting for Aug. 29 at the Sheraton St. Louis (Mo.) City Center Hotel and Suites.

The agenda will include the status of funding for inland navigation projects and studies and the status of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the funding status for fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013 budgets, and the status of the Olmsted Locks and Dam Project.

For more information, contact Mark R. Pointon at (703) 428-6438.


Senate panel approves Doyle for FMC

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has approved the nomination of William P. Doyle to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) for a term expiring June 30, 2013.

Still in the hands of the committee is the renomination of FMC Chairman Richard A. Lidinsky Jr.

Doyle, a marine engineer, has been serving as chief of staff for the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) for the past year. Before joining MEBA, Doyle was director of permits, scheduling and compliance with the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects.


U.S. Coast Guard legacy fleet found ‘poor and declining’

The U.S. Coast Guard got not-so-good marks in a report that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) compiled on the service’s legacy fleet.

For one thing, the GAO reported that the condition of the fleet is “poor and declining.” The GAO said that maintenance managers for both high and medium endurance cutters noted that performance of those vessels’ critical systems has become “increasingly unpredictable and refurbishments of systems that have had a high rate of failure have brought limited returns on investments to improve them.”

Furthermore, the GAO said that costs to maintain legacy vessels are increasing and that the performance of legacy vessels “is declining and will continue to deteriorate.” The GAO also found that Coast Guard legacy vessels “were unable to meet their operational targets and lost considerable planned mission time. In particular, the high endurance cutters did not meet operational hour targets in any year from FY 2005 to 2011.”

The GAO made two recommendations: The Coast Guard should improve its process to track and estimate vessel maintenance costs and budgets, and the Coast Guard should adjust its “outdated and unrealistic operational hour targets.”


Peabody to head Mississippi River Commission

The Senate has confirmed the nomination of Maj. Gen. John W. Peabody as member and president of the Mississippi River Commission.

Peabody, who is commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division, was assigned to the MVD from Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was the commander for the Corps’ Great Lakes and Ohio River Division.

The first of the commission’s five August meetings is set for Aug. 17 at Mel Price Lock & Dam in Alton, Ill. The others are scheduled for Aug. 20 at City Front, Caruthersville, Mo.; Aug. 21 at Mud Island, Memphis; Aug. 22, City Front, Greenville, Miss.; and Aug. 24 Cenac Towing Dock, Houma, La.

For more information, contact Stephen Gambrell at (601) 634-5766.


Ship lines not faulted for cargo diversion from U.S. ports

Ocean carriers won a clean bill of health following a Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) study of the role that the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) plays in the diversion of U.S.-bound cargo to neighboring seaports.

The commission said its findings concluded that carriers shipping U.S.-bound cargo through Canadian and Mexican ports violate “no U.S. law, treaty, agreement or FMC regulation.”

The commission also concluded that whatever the reasons shippers elect to use foreign ports “they are within their rights under FMC law and regulation.”

Turning to the HMT, the commission said it realizes that funds are needed to ensure adequate port facilities but that “on average, a $109/FEU fee to use a U.S. port places those ports at a competitive disadvantage before the container has even been offloaded.”

Suggesting that lawmakers take a look at the cost of moving containers through U.S. ports, the commission said, “it has been stated” that Congress “owes it to ports in the northwest and West Coast now, and the East Coast in the future, to examine our cargo fee structure to keep all U.S. ports competitive with their foreign neighbors for the benefit of all three countries.”


USCG proposes new rates for Great Lakes pilotage services

The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed rate adjustments that would establish new base rates for pilotage services on the Great Lakes.

Questions on the proposed adjustments, all of which are spelled out in the Aug.1 issue of the Federal Register, may be directed to Todd Haviland at (202) 372-2037. Comments on the proposal, identified by docket number USCG-2012-0409, should be submitted by Oct. 1.


Boustany scores bill that ‘steals from waterways’

Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr. (R-La.), who voted against the FY 2013 energy and water appropriations bill passed June 11 by the House, complained that the measure (H.R. 5325) “continues to steal money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) at the expense of our nation’s ports and harbors.”

Boustany, who said he would not support a bill that “steals from our nation’s waterways,” noted that while the Trust Fund will generate $1.6 billion next year, only a little over half will be used for dredging and maintenance. The vote for the bill, which would provide about $5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, “allows for about $658 million of a dedicated user fee to continue to be diverted from the HMTF for unrelated appropriations and budget gimmicks,” the congressman said.

This diversion of HMTF funds, Boustany said, “is a blatant abuse of the dedicated federal tax meant to maintain and care for our nation’s main avenue for trade exports.”

The bill remained in the Senate’s hands as of early August.  

By Professional Mariner Staff