BrownWater News, December 2014

Hill appropriators fund government through FY 2015

House and Senate appropriators have released a $1 trillion spending bill, including over $5.5 billion for the civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers, to fund most of the government through the rest of this fiscal year.

The sum released for the Corps’ civil works program includes $122 million for investigations; $1.6 billion for construction; $302 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries; $2.9 billion for operation and maintenance, including $1.1 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF); $200 million for regulatory action; and $3 million for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works).

The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) said the Olmsted Locks and Dam project on the Ohio River is funded at $160 million (85 percent federal money and 15 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund). The Lower Mon project near Pittsburgh is funded at about $9 million.

The WCI said the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 released Dec. 9 provides no less than $1.1 billion from the HMTF, a $100 million increase, for ports and channels. No funding is provided for hydrologic separation measures related to Asian carp.

The National Waterways Conference said the bill also includes a provision prohibiting the use of any funds to implement a new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard until the administration has solicited and considered input from governors, mayors and other stakeholders. The conference also said the Corps is directed to undertake an economic analysis of whether reduced lock and dam service is in the best interests of the nation.

In an explanatory statement accompanying the bill, appropriators stressed that the administration should pay more attention to its civil works program rather than addressing “multiple conflicting agendas.”

IWUB achieves most 2014 goals

Martin T. Hettel, chairman of the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB), reported at the board’s Nov. 18 meeting at Linthicum, Md., that most of the board’s 2014 goals were achieved, including scheduling meetings with appropriate lead time, and locating meetings at areas that emphasize the inland waterways as a system.

Furthermore, he said, four board members volunteered for appointment to the three priority projects within the Capital Development Plan: Olmsted Locks and Dam, Lower Monongahela, and Chickamauga Lock.

Among the goals the board set was one calling for a “more open and collaborative information exchange between the Army Corps of Engineers and the board.” Assuring the board that the goal was accomplished, Hettel said the past three meetings “have been productive and the information requested by the board has been provided accordingly.” 

For his leadership and for helping accomplish that goal, Hettel — senior manager of American Electric Power’s waterway regulatory programs — thanked Maj. Gen. John W. Peabody, the board’s executive director and the Corps’ deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations.

Among the speakers ready with presentations designed to help the board compile recommendations for its next annual report were David Dale, Corps director of programs in the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division; Jeffrey A. McKee of the Corps’ Civil Works Operations and Regulatory Division; and Joseph Aldridge of the Corps’ Civil Works Programs Integration Division.

Focusing on Olmsted Locks and Dam, Dale said that among the challenges facing the Corps is the lack of an “efficient funding stream.” What is needed, he said, is a minimum of $150 million a year through 2020. “Optimal funding” for this fiscal year and FY 2016, he said, would be $180 million. Less than $150 million a year through 2020 “would have direct impact on the schedule,” he added.

Following Dale’s report on Locks and Dams 2, 3 and 4 in the Monongahela River (Lower Mon project), the board voted to defer construction of the Charleroi land chamber. It was Dale’s recommendation that the board reconsider the land chamber deferment following completion of Charleroi’s river chamber. Dale said the land chamber could be deferred while still achieving more than 90 percent of the project benefits as early as 2023.

A financial report presented by Aldridge showed the total cost of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project at $3.1 billion. The fiscal year 2015 budget would include $160 million to continue construction. The remaining balance after FY 2015 totals $1.1 billion.

Reporting on the status of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, Aldridge said the balance at the beginning of FY 2014 was $40.8 million. The balance at the end of the fiscal year — Sept. 30, 2014 — was $24.7 million.

Dale’s financial report on Locks and Dams 2, 3 and 4 places the total cost of that project at $2.7 billion, including $9 million budgeted for FY 2015. The remaining balance comes to $2.1 billion.

Two weeks after the board meeting, on Dec. 3 the House passed a bill (H.R. 647) that included authority for a fuel tax increase that could provide $40 million a year to help complete navigation projects such as the Chickamauga Lock and Dam on the Tennessee River. The proposed increase of 9 cents a gallon, supported by the barge industry, was attached to the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014.

The board’s next meeting is expected to be in February 2015 in Vicksburg, Miss.

House authorizes $8.7 billion for Coast Guard in FY 2015

On Dec. 3, the House voted 413-3 in favor of a bill authorizing $8.7 billion for the Coast Guard this fiscal year. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation (H.R. 5769) before the end of the year.

House and Senate negotiations on the reauthorization legislation began earlier this year, after the House approved a Coast Guard authorization bill (H.R. 4005) in April.

The final House bill, the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, includes provisions that require development of a national maritime strategy.

Coast Guard moves toward towboat inspections

Lt. Cmdr. William Nabach, project manager at the Coast Guard’s Office of Design & Engineering Standards, said Dec. 2 that the Coast Guard is moving ahead with a rulemaking proposed in 2011 to establish regulations governing the inspection, standards and safety management systems of towing vessels.

The proposal includes provisions covering specific electrical and machinery requirements for new and existing towing vessels, the use and approval of third-party auditors and surveyors, and procedures for obtaining certificates of inspection.

The Coast Guard said in a notice of proposed rulemaking that the intent is to promote safer work practices and reduce casualties by requiring that towing vessels adhere to prescribed safety standards and safety management systems, or to an alternative annual Coast Guard inspection regime.

The comment period ended in December 2011. The final rule is expected to be ready for publication in August 2015.

For more information, contact Nabach at (202) 372-1386 or Michael Harmon at (202) 372-1427.

Barge operators urged to display navigation lights

Noting that incidents involving recreational vessels and moored barges within barge fleets have caused 26 fatalities and 44 injuries in the past 12 years, the Coast Guard said there is a “critical need” for barge operators to properly display navigation lights in accordance with the Inland Navigation Rules.

“As with all marine casualty investigations, the Coast Guard seeks to identify the specific causal factors involved in each incident, including whether the involved barge fleets are sufficiently lit,” the Coast Guard said in a Oct. 9 Marine Safety Alert. “The Coast Guard would like to take this opportunity to remind barge operators of their obligation to meet current barge lighting regulations. Furthermore, these tragic casualties are a strong warning to recreational boaters of the dangers associated with operating near and around barge fleets.”

The Coast Guard reminded the industry that in July it published changes to the Inland Navigation Rules, including Rule 30, “Vessels anchored, aground and moored barges.” The change to Rule 30 incorporated barge lighting requirements previously located in other regulations, including requirements for an unobstructed white light of sufficient intensity to be visible for at least one nautical mile.

The Coast Guard urged owners and operators of barge fleets to review lighting procedures and to ensure that barge fleets remain in compliance with permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers and/or regional issuing authorities.

At the same time, the Coast Guard also “strongly recommended that owners and operators of all vessels, including recreational vessels, remain extra vigilant when operating boats during nighttime hours, times of reduced visibility, or when strong currents exist and when other navigational challenges posed by barge fleets are present.”

Seaway officials prepare for closing of navigation season

St. Lawrence Seaway administrators preparing for the closing of the 2014 navigation season have decided to waive the operational surcharges applicable in the Montreal-Lake Ontario section from Dec. 21-24.

Any transit of the Mo-LO section after 2359 hours on Dec. 24, if permitted, will be subject to prior written agreement. Vessels will be allowed to transit the Mo-LO section of the seaway up to 1600 on Dec. 31, weather and operating conditions permitting.

The Welland Canal will remain open until 2359 on Dec. 26. Any transit of the canal after 2359 on Dec. 26, if permitted, will be subject to prior written agreement. Vessels will be allowed to transit Welland up to 1600 on Dec. 31, weather and operating conditions permitting.

The official closing date for the Sault Ste. Marie Locks (U.S.) is 2400 hours Jan. 15, 2015.

For more detailed seaway closing information, contact the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., Cornwall, Ontario, at (613) 932-5170, or the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., Massena, N.Y., at (315) 764-3200.

By Professional Mariner Staff