Mississippi River can handle traffic from post-Panamax ships, report says
The Army Corps of Engineers has concluded in a new report that there is no immediate need to expand any lock on the Mississippi River to accommodate more grain traffic expected as a result of the use of post-Panamax vessels to ship farm products to Asia through the Panama Canal.
The report on how Congress should address the need for additional port and inland waterways modernization to make room for post-Panamax vessels in the wake of an expanded Panama Canal made a number of observations on the use of the larger ships and their impact on Mississippi River locks and dams.
“An analysis indicated the current Mississippi River capacity is adequate to meet potential demand if the waterways serving the agricultural export market are maintained,” the Corps observed. “A need for lock capacity expansion is not indicated.”
Continuing, the report found that maintaining the capacity of the nation’s major ports and waterways in ways that best serve the nation “will require leadership at all levels of government, and partnership with ports and the private sector. The main challenges are to continue to maintain the key features of our current infrastructure, to identify when and where to expand coastal port capacity, and to determine how to finance its development.”
Under “financing options,” the Corps included increasing the fuel tax or replacing the fuel tax with a vessel user fee and/or a combination of the fuel tax and vessel user fee.
President signs two-year $105 billion highway bill
On June 29, the House and Senate gave their final approval and the president signed the legislation that will fund federal highway, transit and highway safety programs at current spending levels through the end of fiscal year 2014. The last of a series of extensions of the previous highway legislation expired June 30.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who said the bill (H.R. 4348) was “far from perfect,” emphasized that Republicans hope to authorize the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada through the United States. The pipeline proposal was not included in the final legislation.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the bill included “historic reforms – cutting red tape and consolidating or eliminating nearly 70 federal programs.” Mica said that while the just-expired law contained more than 6,300 earmarks, “this bill has none. This legislation is paid for and does not deficit-spend.”
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said that among other things, the highway bill creates a uniform set of standards for training of hazardous materials inspectors, increases the civil penalties for safety violations and establishes a study of the safety of existing hazmat special permits.
Jean Godwin, executive vice president of the American Association of Port Authorities, said that for the first time, a highway reauthorization “includes consideration of the water transportation mode and elevates goods movement priorities that have traditionally been ignored in previous surface transportation bills. This legislation demonstrates meaningful progress toward creation of a national freight policy and highlights the critical importance of fully funding the costs of maintaining America’s federal navigation channels.”
Merchant Marine Academy has new superintendent
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has named James Helis, a retired Army colonel, as the new superintendent for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Helis, who for the past eight years has led the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, will begin work at the academy in July.
During his 30 years in the Army, Helis served as an Army Ranger and master parachutist, and was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, where he served as chief of plans for the NATO International Security Assistance Force.
DOT allocates $500 million in TIGER grants
Three inland waterway projects are among 47 transportation projects in 34 states and the District of Columbia that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said would receive a total of almost $500 million from the fourth round of grants in the Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) 2012 program.
Among the waterway-related projects selected are the Port of Catoosa Main Dock Rehabilitation in Oklahoma, the Port of Lewiston Dock Extension in Idaho, and the Gulf Marine Highway Intermodal Project in Texas.
The Tulsa Port of Catoosa, one of the largest inland ports in the nation, will be granted $6.4 million to renovate its main dock. The river port is located at the head of the McClelland-Kerr Arkansas River system, the farthest point inland of any sea or river port.
A $12 million TIGER grant for the Gulf Marine Highway Intermodal Project will support construction of a new 600-foot cargo dock on the south side of the Brownsville ship channel, allowing for the expansion of marine highway container operations.
The Port of Lewiston, located on the Columbia/Snake river system, will use its $1.3 million grant for various improvements, including a 150-foot extension to its 120-foot dock.
The American Association of Port Authorities noted that of the 47 projects selected for the fourth round of grants, eight will collect more than $79 million for port-related infrastructure.
Mississippi River Twin Cities locks may not qualify for 24/7 operation
The Army Corps of Engineers has notified the waterway industry that because of the lack of funds it is considering reducing the hours of operation of the Mississippi River Twin Cities locks at Minneapolis from 24 hours a day (Service Level 1) to 19 (Service Level 2) during the navigation season.
“Constrained funding has led to reduced operations and maintenance funding within the Corps’ Inland Marine Transportation System,” the Corps said. “The intended effect of the proposed change reduces operational costs and aligns lock availability with existing levels of lock usage.”
The Corps said that locks operating at Service Level 1 should handle more than 1,000 commercial lockages per year. The Twin Cities locks, the Corps noted, have fewer than 1,000 commercial lockages per year.
The proposal will be aired at a public meeting Aug. 7 at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board headquarters. The Corps will accept written comments until Aug. 30.
For more information, contact Michael Kidby at (202) 761-0250.
Mariners given more time to renew TWIC cards
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has decided to grant a temporary exemption from Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) regulations regarding card expiration and replacement requirements.
The exemption applies to U.S. nationals who hold a valid TWIC expiring on or before Dec. 31, 2014. The exemption permits eligible TWIC holders to obtain a replacement card that extends the expiration date of their TWIC by three years. The replacement card will cost applicants $60 instead of the standard renewal fee of $129.75.
TSA said that at the end of the three-year extension period, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expects card reader requirements to be in place and readers to be deployed at facilities with the highest risk.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who has been critical of DHS for requiring workers to renew their TWIC cards after Oct. 1 even though DHS still has no standards for biometric readers, applauded the DHS decision to revise its TWIC renewal policy as of Aug. 30.
“The changes should help lessen the burden on our nation’s 2.1 million port and transportation security workers as DHS moves toward issuance of a final rule for biometric readers,” Thompson said.
At a recent hearing to determine why the TWIC program remained in limbo 10 years after Congress directed its establishment, an angry Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, slammed down his gavel, dismissed a panel of witnesses and left the hearing room when he failed to get satisfactory details about an updated timeline for finally approving TWIC readers. The panel included a DHS representative, who repeatedly deferred questions to TSA, which declined to appear at the hearing.
Mica returned to the hearing a short time later and issued a statement in which he expressed his disappointment at the lack of biometric requirements “that were asked for years ago, and promised to us in a number of hearings.”
“What baffles me is that there are other agencies that have developed similar identification credentials and are using them today,” Mica said. “We are reinventing the wheel at great public expense and great delay in implementation.”
Towing safety committee to meet July 26
The Coast Guard announced July 11 that the Towing Safety Advisory Committee will meet July 26 via a 90-minute teleconference. Members will meet to discuss a new task statement and to discuss the progress of open task statements.
The new statement is entitled “Recommendations for Safety Standards of Portable Facility Vapor Control Systems.” The open statements deal with crewmembers falling overboard, training standards, and towing vessel stability.
The meeting will take place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., EST.
For more information, contact Cmdr. Rob Smith at (202) 372-1439.
Weeks Marine christens new dredge
Weeks Marine Inc. christened a new $41 million oceangoing hydraulic cutter suction dredge, CR McCaskill, on July 16 at the company’s Houma, La., marine yard.
The vessel was named for the Dredging Division’s technical and equipment executive, Charles R. McCaskill.
The dredge is the third finished product of Weeks Marine’s four-year, five-dredge $200 million capital investment initiative formally announced in May 2011. About two years from now, a new large class, 8,500-cubic-yard hopper dredge, Magdalen, under construction at BAE Systems in Mobile, Ala., will become Weeks Marine’s third hopper dredge.