Boxer readies new WRDA legislation
At a recent hearing on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calf.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that “in the coming weeks” she intends to move forward with a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
Boxer said that she and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member of the committee, are optimistic that “we can repeat last year’s success on MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act).” Signed by the president last July, MAP-21 funds surface transportation programs at more than $105 billion in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
Boxer stressed that while working on WRDA legislation, “we must look at ways to ensure that ports which collect the most Trust Fund revenue receive an equitable share of federal investment. Currently, some of these ports receive only a fraction of the funds that users of their ports pay into the Trust Fund.”
Boxer said that she has offered a provision for the next WRDA that would allow certain ports to use harbor maintenance funds for limited additional uses after other traditional operation and maintenance needs are met.
“This would be an important step forward in ensuring our nation’s most essential ports receive an equitable share of harbor maintenance revenues,” Boxer said.
Boxer noted that in this fiscal year’s budget, the Obama administration estimated that the Trust Fund would receive $1.8 billion, but the Army Corps of Engineers budget request was only $848 million. “This leaves a growing surplus, at a time when many of the nation’s ports are not maintained to their authorized depths and widths,” the committee chairman said.
Two HMTF bills target ‘dredging crisis’
Congress is working on two bills that would require the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HTMF) to spend on dredging what it takes in each year for dredging.
Introduced in the House was H.R. 335 by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.). In the Senate, S. 218 was introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
“Congress must quickly pass these bills,” Donald N. Cree, president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, said Feb. 5. “The largest U.S.-flag Great Lakes freighters were leaving behind more than 10,000 tons of cargo each trip by the end of 2012. The dredging crisis is obliterating the efficiencies of Great Lakes shipping.”
Emphasizing that the “dredging crisis is man-made,” James H.I. Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA), said that in this century, the Corps has received enough money to reduce the backlog of sediment in the lakes in only two years, 2008 and 2009. The budget has been “woefully inadequate in the years that have followed and the backlog again tops 17 million cubic yards,” Weakley said.
Speaking of “dredging crisis,” the LCA, which expects dredging on the Great Lakes to dominate its priorities in 2013, reported that “inadequate dredging took a real toll on Great Lakes shipping in 2012.”
“The drought has pushed water levels on lakes Michigan and Huron to record lows,” the association said. “The water level in the St. Marys River also declined as 2012 wore on; by year’s end ships were loading to less than 26 feet. In 1997, the last period of high water, ships routinely locked through the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie) locks drafting 28 feet or more. That loss of draft cost some ships more than 10,000 tons of cargo on their final voyages of 2012.”
In a separate report, the LCA showed that U.S.-flag lakers carried 89.5 million tons of dry-bulk cargo in 2012, a decrease of 4.6 percent from 2011. The lakers also carried 45.2 million tons of iron ore in 2012, just 73 percent of the 2011 volume, and 17.6 million tons of coal in 2012, down 13 percent from the previous year.
Two bills take aim at nation’s levees
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has introduced a bill (S. 4) that expresses the sense of the Senate that Congress should update and enhance the U.S. network of rail, dams and ports, and upgrade and repair the nation’s system of flood protection infrastructure to protect public safety.
On the House side, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation (H.R. 399) that would direct the Secretary of the Army to undertake a “comprehensive review” of the Corps of Engineers policy guidelines on vegetation management for levees.
According to the bill, the review would determine whether current federal policy relating to levee vegetation is appropriate for all regions of the United States. Meanwhile, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Jan. 17 that he was “appalled, seven years after Katrina, by the magnitude of levee deficiencies discovered across the country.”
Thompson commented after the Associated Press reported that 326 levees among 2,487 in 37 states were found to be unacceptable. They were among 1,451 graded by the Army Corps of Engineers. A total of 1,004 were deemed minimally acceptable with deficiencies, and only 21 were found to be in acceptable condition.
“We cannot allow the deterioration of this country’s infrastructure to go unabated,” the congressman said. “Failure to act would not only be penny-wise and pound foolish, but needlessly endangers lives and property.”
‘Moving security zone’ set in Lower Mississippi
The U.S. Coast Guard has established a “moving security zone” that will remain effective in the Lower Mississippi River during the first three months of 2013.
Establishment of the zone provides enhanced protection for certain vessels, including high-capacity passenger vessels, vessels carrying certain dangerous cargoes, tank vessels constructed to carry oil or hazardous materials in bulk, and vessels carrying liquefied hazardous gas.
The zone extends 300 yards on all sides of a vessel being escorted by one or more Coast Guard assets or other federal, state or local law enforcement agency assets.
For more information, contact Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Blair at (504) 365-2392.
CDC barges relieved of reporting requirements
Rear Adm. Michael N. Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, has suspended reporting requirements under the Regulated Navigation Area (RNA) established for barges loaded with dangerous cargoes (CDC) in the inland rivers of the Coast Guard district.
The suspension, from Jan. 23 until Sept. 30, is necessary because the Coast Guard continues to analyze future reporting needs and evaluate possible changes in CDC reporting requirements, Parks said. The stay of the requirements does not relieve towing vessel operators and fleeting area managers responsible for CDC barges in the RNA from the arrival and movement reporting obligations currently in effect.
For more information, contact Lt. Cdr. David Webb at (216) 902-6050.
Coast Guard sets 2013 drug testing rate
The U.S. Coast Guard has set the year 2013 minimum random drug testing rate at 25 percent of covered crewmembers.
The Coast Guard said it may set the rate back up to 50 percent of covered crewmembers if the positive rate for random drug tests is greater than 1 percent for one year, or if the quality data is not sufficient to accurately assess the positive rate.
In every year of testing through 2012, the random testing rate has been 50 percent. The commandant may lower this rate to 25 percent if, for two consecutive years, the positive drug test rate is less than 1 percent. Reports indicate that the positive rate for random drug tests was 0.77 percent in 2011 and 0.74 percent in 2010.
The Coast Guard requires marine employers to establish random testing programs for covered crewmembers. Every marine employer is required to collect and maintain a record of drug testing program data for each calendar year and submit this data by March 15 of the following year to the Coast Guard in an annual MIS report.
For more information, contact Robert C. Schoening at (202) 372-1033.
Seaway traffic in 2012 up 4 percent, to 39 million tons
The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. reports that Canadian facilities in the international waterway handled 38.9 million metric tons of cargo during the 2012 navigation season, an increase of 4 percent over the tonnage moved in 2011.
Corporation officials said that demand for low-sulfur coal in Europe led to a substantial increase in coal volumes, while Chinese steel mills triggered an upsurge in the demand for iron ore.