BrownWater News, January 2013

WCI executive assesses waterways’ future

Debra Colbert, senior vice president of Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), believes the outlook for the nation’s waterways in 2013 has “both good and not so good elements.”

“The not so good of the outlook is that drought conditions are expected to continue into 2013, which will affect the navigational depths of the Mississippi River, as well as possibly other rivers on the system, and will disrupt commerce,” Colbert said. “The good part of the story ahead for the inland waterways industry is that momentum for positive change is increasing within Congress.”

At present time, she said, navigation industry stakeholders are continuing to urge that minimal increases in the flows from the Missouri River be used to solve decreasing water levels on the Mississippi River and help preserve the necessary nine-foot channel for barge traffic that is expected to effectively halt around the early part of January. By minimal flows, Colbert means less than 2 percent of what is currently in the Missouri River Reservoir system.

“The low-water crisis on the Mississippi River has underscored that America’s waterways are a precious resource and the envy of the world because of the natural ‘water highway’ that the waterways system provides for commerce,” Colbert said.

Turning to the “good part,” Colbert said the industry awaits “what could be early action in the 113th Congress on a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in the Senate that could offer a log-term funding plan that modernizes waterways’ infrastructure.”

Colbert said that WCI members also are encouraged by legislation likely to be offered early in the new Congress by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Called the American Waterworks Act, the proposal follows many of the recommendations from the Inland Waterways Capital Development Plan.

In the House, she said, a bill introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield incorporates elements of the Capital Development Plan and currently has 26 bipartisan co-sponsors and “the enthusiastic support of over 200 organizations.” The legislation (H.R. 4342) is entitled “WAVE 4: Waterways are Vital for the Economy, Energy, Efficiency and Environment Act of 2012.”

The American Waterways Operators (AWO) also hopes to work with members of Congress “on both sides of the aisle to develop policies that help advance and strengthen the nation’s tugboat, towboat and barge industry.” The AWO wants to ensure “strong and broad congressional support for the Jones Act and will actively work to prevent an erosion of this important cabotage law,” said Tom Allegretti, AWO’s president and CEO.

“With many new faces in Congress, we look forward to the new year and the chance to reiterate the importance of the tugboat, towboat and barge industry to the nation,” Allegretti said.


Towboats can navigate Mississippi through January

The American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council Inc. noted on Jan. 8 that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and the Army Corps of Engineers have indicated that the Mississippi River will be able to sustain  navigation through the end of January for towboats and barges at a nine-foot draft. The reasons: the Corps’ rock pinnacle removal work at Thebes, Ill., has gone better than expected, and the Corps has released additional water from the Carlyle Lake Reservoir in Illinois to augment water depth on the mid-Mississippi River.

While the industry is grateful to federal and state officials who have underscored the importance of maintaining barge traffic on the Mississippi, it continues to seek assurances that all options to maintain navigation without further restrictions on draft remain on the table.

“The Corps’ progress in removing rock formations and providing additional water releases is a positive development,” said Tom Allegretti, AWO president and CEO. “However, we are not out of the woods, and further assurances are needed to provide industry with certainty that is needed for sound business and transportation planning beyond January.”

Michael Toohey, WCI president and CEO, said that if a barge has a 14-day transit time from loading to the low points on the river, barge operators and their customers “must make plans based on the forecasted water depth at the time of the barge’s arrival at the bottleneck. That is why longer-term assurance that barges can reliably load to a nine-foot draft even beyond January is absolutely critical.”

Carole Wright of the National Waterways Conference said on Jan. 4 that while winter storms across the Plains and Southeast have helped ease drought conditions slightly, concerns remain that low water levels on the Mississippi would halt most barge traffic near St. Louis by mid-January.

Just before the end of the year, the Corps had predicted that the river would drop to below 8 feet around Jan. 23. The Corps also had suggested that its rock pinnacle removal efforts at Thebes might begin to have an impact on the controlling depths around Jan. 20.


Coast Guard extends moratorium on dangerous-cargo reports

The commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District has extended for eight months the previously published suspension of reporting requirements for barges loaded with certain dangerous cargoes (CDC barges) in the district’s inland rivers.

A two-year suspension published in 2011 expired Jan. 15. The Coast Guard said the extension to Sept. 30 is necessary because the Coast Guard is still analyzing future reporting needs and evaluating possible changes in CDC reporting requirements.

The Coast Guard also said the extension does not relieve towing vessel operators and fleeting area managers responsible for CDC barges in the regulated navigation area from their dangerous cargo or vessel arrival and movement reporting obligations currently in effect under other regulations or placed into effect under appropriate Coast Guard authority.

For more information, contact Lt. Jason Doherty at (504) 671-2266.


Obama signs two-year authorization bill for Coast Guard

President Obama has signed a bill (H.R. 2838) authorizing $8.6 billion this fiscal year and $8.7 billion in fiscal 2014 for the Coast Guard.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee noted that the bill eliminates the Transportation Security Administration’s requirement for maritime workers to make multiple trips to a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) enrollment center to receive the TWIC card. The bill also extends the duration of medical certificates so mariners can continue to work while the Coast Guard reduces its backlog of applications.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, said the bill reverses the “irresponsible” cuts to the Coast Guard by the administration.

“The president proposed to slash the service’s acquisition budget by nearly 20 percent, reduce the number of service members by over 1,000, close seasonal air facilities, and take recently upgraded helicopters out of service,” LoBiondo added.


Coast Guard relaxes unescorted-access policy

The Coast Guard has issued a new policy relating to unescorted access by Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) holders who have reported their cards lost, damaged or stolen.

Under new Policy Letter 12-04, facility owners and operators may grant unescorted access to those individuals for up to 37 days, if they demonstrate that a replacement card has been ordered and provide the facility’s security officer with their name as it is recorded by the TWIC office.

The new policy also allows unescorted access for workers who apply for a renewal TWIC prior to the expiration of their existing card but who are unable to take possession of the replacement before it expires.


Lidinsky confirmation left to new Senate

Among the dozens of nominations that the new Senate returned to the president Jan. 3 was that of Richard A. Lidinsky Jr., who was renominated to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) for a term ending June 30, 2017.

Under Senate rules, nominations that remain unconfirmed at time of adjournment are returned to the president.

Lidinsky, renominated by the president last year, has been an FMC member and chairman since August 2009. Lidinsky’s nomination is expected to be resubmitted for consideration by the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted Jan. 1 to confirm the nomination of William P. Doyle to the FMC for a term ending next June 30.


Merchant Marine Personnel panel seeks members

The Coast Guard has invited interested parties to apply for membership on the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee to fill six positions that will become vacant June 1.

Applications should be submitted to the Coast Guard by March 11.

For more information contact Davis J. Breyer at (202) 372-1445.

By Professional Mariner Staff