Congressional panel begins work on new WRDA
A conference committee created to iron out differences between House and Senate water resources bills has begun piecing together a new Water Resources Development Act, the first since 2007.
The two bills under consideration are H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), and S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The House bill passed in October and Senate bill passed in May.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that the names of the two bills before the conferees “may be a little different, but the important thing is that we all care about reform.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that the Senate bill “invests in infrastructure that protects our people from flooding, maintains navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods, and restores vital ecosystems, which effectively serve as natural flood control.”
Boxer said the Senate developed a fiscally responsible WRDA bill with no earmarks. “We figured out a way to identify true needs,” she added.
As the conference committee got to work on the legislation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “strongly urged” the panel to resolve its differences and produce a conference report “as soon as practicable.”
In a letter to the conferees, the chamber said it was “pleased that both the House and Senate (bills) incorporate the recommendation made by the Inland Waterway Users Board to modify the federal cost share for the Olmsted Locks and Dam Project. The chamber favors the Senate’s approach (S. 601), which would shift 100 percent of the remaining costs to general treasury revenue compared to the 75 percent in the House bill (H.R. 3080). Implementing this recommendation would free up approximately $750 million for other capital construction efforts along the inland waterways system.”
As for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the chamber said it supports the Senate provision, which would provide for “the ultimate full usage of the fund for its intended purpose.”
In addition, the chamber said that while it welcomed the increased investment in America’s ports, it was “disappointed by the omission of the recommendation made by the Inland Waterway Users Board to provide predictable, reliable and sustainable revenue to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund from both the House and Senate bills.”
The chamber said that 57 percent of the 238 locks on the inland waterways system are more than 50 years old, well beyond their design life, with 34 locks older than 80 years, according to the National Waterways Foundation.
“It is critical to address the gap between needs and resources of the inland waterways,” the chamber said.
Seaway to end 2013 navigation season Dec. 30
Administrators of the St. Lawrence Seaway have announced that the 2013 navigation season through the Montreal-Lake Ontario section will end at midnight Dec. 30.
Any transit of that section after Dec. 24, if permitted, will be subject to prior written agreement completed at the St. Lambert office. Regardless of operating conditions, all vessels must be clear of the MO/LO section by midnight Dec. 30.
The Welland Canal’s 2013 navigation season will close at midnight Dec. 31, seaway officials said. U.S. Sault Ste. Marie locks will stop operating by midnight Jan. 15.
Vessel owners and operators are advised that there are a number of ports east of the seaway (St. Lambert Lock) on the St. Lawrence River that remain open to navigation during the winter months.
For detailed seaway closing procedures, call the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. (U.S.) at 315-764-3200 or the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (Canada) at 613-932-5170.
Waterway users warned of reduced Illinois bridge operation
The Coast Guard has issued a temporary “deviation” from the operating schedule that governs the Rock Island Railroad and Highway Drawbridge across the Upper Mississippi River, mile 482.9, at Rock Island, Ill.
The deviation period will be from 7:30 a.m. Dec. 18 until 7:30 a.m. March 4, when the draw span will remain in the closed-to-navigation position.
The Coast Guard said that during that period, the bridge owner will replace control components that are essential to the continued safe operation of the drawbridge. The bridge will not be able to open for emergencies and there is no alternate route for vessels to pass that section of the Upper Mississippi.
The Coast Guard said it would inform waterway users of the change through its local and broadcast notices to mariners. For more information, contact Eric Washburn at 314-269-2378.
Waterways Users Board to meet Jan. 14
The next meeting of the Inland Waterways Users Board will be held Jan. 14 at the Westin New Orleans Canal Place Hotel.
The agenda will include the status of funding for inland navigation projects and studies; the status of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund; funding for fiscal year 2014; an update of proposed water-resources-related authorization bills, and the status of the Olmsted Locks and Dam Project.
For more information, contact Mark Pointon at 703-428-6438 or Mindy Simmons at 202-761-1934.
Coast Guard extends comment period for oil transfer measures
The Coast Guard has extended the comment period concerning new measures to reduce the risk of spills in oil transfer operations involving a tank vessel.
In the notice issued Oct. 23, the Coast Guard set Nov. 22 as the deadline for comments. The new deadline is Dec. 30.
For more information, contact Ken Smith at 202-372-1413.
Barge industry ready to haul shale gas wastewater
The American Waterways Operators (AWO) told the Department of Transportation on Dec. 6 that it “strongly supports” the carriage of shale gas extraction wastewater (SGEWW) by barge.
Commenting on the Coast Guard’s draft policy for the bulk carriage of conditionally permitted SGEWW, Jennifer Carpenter, the AWO’s senior vice president of national advocacy, said transportation by barge “offers significant environmental advantages given the tugboat, towboat and barge industry’s strong record of transporting hazardous or potentially hazardous materials safely. We believe that the requirements proposed in the draft policy letter are reasonable, with two qualifications aimed at shifting the focus from mitigating risk after loading to controlling risk prior to loading.”
Carpenter said the AWO believes that testing and documentation to ensure that a load of SGEWW meets the required tolerances should be conducted by the offeror of the cargo before it is loaded onto the barge. Also, Carpenter said, the AWO believes the proposed requirement that the barge owner have the vessel surveyed before another cargo can be carried, and before personnel may enter the barge, is unnecessary.
“Further testing of the barge should not be necessary if each cargo of SGEWW is tested prior to loading and found to be in compliance with the specific criteria,” Carpenter said. “With respect to personnel entry, we expect that current regulations and industry practice for confined-space entry will continue to apply.”
In a notice published Oct. 30 in the Federal Register, the Coast Guard said its proposed policy letter specifies the conditions under which a barge owner may request and be granted a Certificate of Inspection endorsement or letter allowing the barge to transport shale gas extraction wastewater in bulk. The deadline for comments was Nov. 29.
SGEWW, a byproduct of drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing technology, is currently either stored at the drilling site or transported by rail or truck to remote storage or reprocessing centers.
“There is commercial interest in transporting SGEWW from northern Appalachia via inland waterways to storage or reprocessing centers and final disposal sites in Ohio, Texas and Louisiana,” the Coast Guard said.
For more information about the notice, contact Cynthia Znati at 202-372-1412.
Green Trade Corridor tackles California highway congestion
The Maritime Administration has dedicated the California Green Trade Corridor (CGTC), which is expected to help take freight traffic off California’s congested Interstate 580 by encouraging shippers to move cargo along the waterways between the ports of Oakland, Stockton and Sacramento.
The new Marine Highway (M-580), still under development, utilizes the Stockton and San Joaquin rivers to transport freight between the three ports. It is anticipated that running just two barges per week between Oakland and Stockton will eliminate about 200 trucks per day from nearby I-580. When fully operational, it’s expected that barges will make three round-trips per week on the 75-mile corridor, eliminating 180,000 truck trips per year.
CGTC, which runs parallel to I-580 between the San Joaquin Valley and Oakland, was funded by a $30 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and another $5 million in local money. Since 2009, the Department of Transportation has directed $417 million in TIGER funding to projects at 33 ports, including $130 million for projects supporting Marine Highway services, said Acting Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said CTGC “will help get cargo off the highways and onto our waterways, improving traffic on our roads while providing an efficient, environmentally friendly option within our freight system.”