BrownWater News July 2011

New highway proposal addresses maritime transport policy 

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled its proposed six-year $230 billion reauthorization of a highway bill that includes, for the first time, an attempt to reform and streamline maritime programs.

Addressing a standing-room-only crowd in a hearing room on Capitol Hill July 7, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, applauded the committee “for recognizing the critical role the maritime industry plays in our nation’s economy, global commerce and job creation.”

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, added that government red tape “has stifled the flow of commerce and our ability to effectively build and maintain our maritime infrastructure.” 

Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the committee, said the proposal incorporates “significant policy reforms” for rail and maritime transportation.” Mica also emphasized, among other things, that the proposal encourages short-sea shipping by eliminating double taxation on vessels transporting freight between domestic ports and ensures that Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund revenues are spent as intended in maintaining the nation’s harbors and “not tied up in a federal budgetary shell game.”  The proposal also expedites the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit processing to reduce project backlog, Mica added.

Furthermore, Mica said the proposal stimulates domestic shipbuilding and creation of maritime jobs by expanding the allowable use of tax-deferred Capital Construction Fund accounts.

Commenting on the proposal, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, applauded the committee for including for the first time a title specifically addressing maritime and port related transportation infrastructure.

“Improving the freight transportation system, including port related infrastructure and the connections into and out of ports, helps strength our nation’s international competitiveness and our ability to accommodate trade growth,” Nagle said.


House committee approves $4.8 billion for Corps; WCI 'encouraged'

The House Appropriations Committee voted 26 to 20 June 15 to approve a Fiscal Year 2012 spending bill that includes $4.8 billion for the civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Among the amendments adopted by the committee was one by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, to provide $1.01 billion in emergency funding for the Corps to repair damage caused by the recent record floods along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Another amendment, offered by Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), allows the Corps to receive and use non-federal funds to continue or complete ongoing federal studies. This provision supplements the Corps’ existing authority to use non-federal funds for the design, construction and operations and maintenance on projects that have already received federal funding.

In the accompanying report, the committee “strongly opposed” the administration’s attempt to expand the authorized purposes of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, especially where the budget does not propose funds to meet existing dredging needs. As for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the committee noted the efforts of the Inland Waterways Users Board to develop a comprehensive funding proposal that was rejected by the administration. The committee urged the administration to work with industry and the appropriate committees to develop an equitable solution as soon as possible.

Commenting on the committee’s action, the Waterways Council Inc. said it was “encouraged” by the panel’s approval of the spending bill and the emergency funding for the Corps. “While we appreciate the action taken by the House Appropriations Committee yesterday (June 15), we need immediate funding to address the problems we face on the river system right now,” said Cornel Martin, president and CEO of WCI. “Our nation’s waterways system, recently ravaged by natural disasters, needs critical funding to help restore damage caused by flooding and high water in order to allow our exports to continue to reach world markets and our economy to rebound."


Dredging issues discussed at annual meeting

The challenges faced by dredgers working daily to clear inland waterway channels for the barge and towing industry were among the issues getting a lot of attention at the recent annual National Dredging Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The problems and opportunities that come with navigation dredging were discussed by Todd S. Bridges, senior environmental research scientist at the Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., one of several speakers at the meeting sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Dredging Contractors of America.

Bridges said the problems include cost and time pressures on dredging operations, and constraints generated from environmental issues and conflicts. The opportunities, he said, include development of broad-based support for the navigation program, and a chance to change the paradigm that pits navigation interests against environmental interests.

In the past, Bridges said, sustainability meant maximizing economic benefits while minimizing environmental damage. In the future, Bridges said, sustainable dredging will expand and optimize the distribution of benefits within the system and across all three domains — environment, social and economic.

Introducing the Low Use Navigation Pilot Program to attendees was George Nieves, regional asset manager in the Corps’ North Atlantic Division.

The purpose of the pilot program is to find alternate, non-traditional ways to accomplish maintenance of low-use harbors and waterways. Low-use projects offer a number of returns to the nation, Nieves said, including support of commercial fishing, subsistence harbors, public transportation, energy supplies and U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue operations.

Nieves also said there are a number of ways that the pilot program can be used to develop methods to maintain the projects. Among other things, he said, the program provides technical knowledge of dredging to the sponsors. It also can educate sponsors on how to obtain non-traditional funding from non-Corps sources. Furthermore, he said, the program can be used for sediment testing, disposal site sizing and identification, and dredged material placement alternatives.

Virginia R. Pankow, who deals with navigation economics at the Institute of Waterway Resources, Fort Belvoir, Va., delivered a presentation on the Dredging Information System (DIS), a national database that tracks all Corps dredging from advertisement to completion. It contains dredging location and amount; dates for advertising, bid opening, contract awards and estimated start and end of dredging; dredge, work and contract types; and government estimates and winning bid/bidders.

The DIS Product Delivery Team expanded the advertising schedule to include the separate listing of not-yet-awarded work and a 15-month bar chart of hopper work, she added. 


Navigation safety council seeks new members

The U.S. Coast Guard has invited interested parties to apply for membership on the Navigation Safety Advisory Council.

Applicants must submit a cover letter and resume by July 29. The cover letter and resume should be sent to Mike Sollosi, Alternate Designated Federal Officer (ADFO), at Commandant (CG-553), Attn: Mike Sollosi, U.S. Coast Guard, 2100 2nd St. S.W., STOP 7580, Washington, D.C. 20593-7580.

The council comprises not more than 21 members with expertise in inland and international vessel navigation Rules of the Road, aids to maritime navigation, maritime law, vessel safety, port safety, or commercial diving safety.

The Coast Guard will consider applications for eight positions that will become vacant Nov. 11. Members serve terms of office of up to three years.

For more information, contact Sollosi at (202) 372-1545. 


Tugboat accident blamed on ‘inattentive’ mate

The National Transportation Safety Board reported June 21 that the mate operating a tugboat near Philadelphia a year ago failed to maintain a proper lookout while towing a barge up the Delaware River, causing the barge to collide with an anchored “duckboat,” which sank in about 55 feet of water. Two of the 35 passengers aboard the amphibious vehicle were killed in the accident.

In its report, the board said the investigation revealed that the mate was inattentive to his duties because he was distracted by his repeated use of a cell phone and laptop computer while communicating with his family while they were dealing with a family emergency. Furthermore, the report said, rather than being in the upper wheelhouse as expected, the mate was navigating from the lower wheelhouse, where visibility of the channel ahead was limited.

Also contributing to the accident, the report said, was the fact the master of the passenger craft had to stop the vessel and anchor in an active channel after the engine overheated and the master "did not take all actions appropriate to address the risk of anchoring in an active navigation channel."

Among the recommendations issued by the board was one urging the U.S. Coast Guard “to increase focus on and oversight of inappropriate use of cell phones and other wireless electronic devices by on-duty crewmembers in safety-critical positions so that such use does not affect a vessel's operational safety."


Crowley assigns double-hulled barges to Alaska

Crowley Maritime Corp. deployed two new double-hulled, combination deck cargo and tank barges at the end of June in Western Alaska.

The two barges left Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Wash., earlier in June and made a brief stop in Seward for final outfitting of equipment, including hoses, lines pumps and other gear necessary for operating in Western Alaska.

Rocky Smith, Crowley senior vice president and general manager, said that Crowley is the only company bringing the safer double-hull vessels to Alaska without any regulatory requirement. Crowley took that step, Smith said, “because it's just the right thing to do."

Both barges will be home-ported in Nome and will be used for shallow-draft operations and beach landings for delivery of fuel and cargo to the remote communities of Western Alaska.


New Corps chief awaits confirmation hearing

Still awaiting a confirmation hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee in mid-July was Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, who was nominated in April to succeed Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp as the next Chief of Engineers and Commanding General for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Bostick currently serves as the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, a position he has held for the past year and a half.

A committee staff member said July 6 that no hearing has been held and that none has been scheduled.

Bostick did appear for a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee May 25, along with two other nominees, but the committee, which has oversight responsibility for the Corps' civil works program, took no action on Bostick's nomination since it has no jurisdiction over his appointment.


$527 million available for new TIGER round

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced that $527 million will be available for a third round of the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) competitive grant program that funds innovative job-creating transportation projects.

This fiscal year's budget, signed by President Obama in April, included the money for Department of Transportation investments in the nation's transportation infrastructure. Prospective participants have until this fall to prepare applications for grants under the new TIGER round. The previous two rounds of the TIGER grant program provided $2.1 billion to 126 transportation projects in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.


Mississippi River Commission has two new members

The Senate has confirmed the nomination of Army Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh and Rear Adm. Jonathan W. Bailey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as members of the Mississippi River Commission. Walsh also was named president of the commission.

By Professional Mariner Staff