BrownWater News, July 2014

Aging waterway infrastructure major challenge for COE

Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, Army chief of engineers and commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers (COE), said June 26 that a major challenge facing the Corps is the nation’s “aging, deteriorating and declining” inland waterway infrastructure.

Hosting a media roundtable discussion with several reporters present or on the telephone, Bostick said the U.S. inland waterway system includes 236 navigation lock chambers, 139 of which are more than 50 years old. The replacement value of the waterway infrastructure has been estimated at $251 billion.

Bostick said that since 2009, delays and interruptions at the inland waterway locks and dams have doubled and that 16 percent of the nation’s dams are listed as “extremely or very high risk, increasing the urgency for action.”

Worldwide, Bostick noted, U.S. spending on public works projects is ranked 14th among the most comparable and advanced nations.

Despite the financial needs of the Corps’ civil works program, Bostick said he remained optimistic. "Our job is to find engineering solutions to the nation’s challenges. We can’t wring our hands and roll our sleeves up at the same time.”

An information sheet distributed by Bostick showed that 2.3 billion tons of cargo transited U.S. ports and waterways in 2012, including 804.5 million tons of imports, 617.4 million tons of exports and 884.9 million tons of domestic freight.

The largest environmental protection and restoration construction project the Corps worked on in fiscal year 2013 was the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration at $88.7 million. Among others were the Missouri River Fish & Wildlife Recovery, $72 million, and the Upper Mississippi River Restoration, $24.1 million. There were 882 projects under construction in FY 2013, Bostick said, including 74 for navigation.

In FY 2012, material dredged in connection with construction and maintenance totaled 238 million cubic yards at a cost of $1.2 billion ($5.13 per cubic yard). Private firms dredged nearly 80 percent of the material.


Open season for Marine Highway project submissions

The Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration have announced that the open season for Marine Highway project submissions, which began June 2, will continue until Sept. 30, 2016.

DOT and MarAd reminded prospective applicants that the originating authority, approved in 2007, has been amended to include short sea routes that do not have parallel landside routes. Accordingly, DOT can now review and consider designating Marine Highway routes and projects between all U.S. ports.

DOT and MarAd scheduled five two-month project review periods that began July 1. The last four begin Jan. 1, 2015; July 1, 2015; Jan. 1, 2016, and July 1, 2016.

For more information, including information on submitting applications, contact Stephen Shafer at (202) 366-5488.


Obama signs WRRDA, wants waterways in ‘tip-top shape’

The new Water Resources Reform and Development Act, passed finally by the Senate on Maritime Day, was signed June 10 by President Obama.

Commenting on the legislation, Obama said the bill (H.R. 3080) “will put Americans to work modernizing our water infrastructure and restoring some of our most vital ecosystems.” The president said that as more of the world’s cargo is transported on massive ships, “we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got bridges high enough and ports that are big enough to hold them and accommodate them so that our businesses can keep selling goods made in America to the rest of the world."

“Meanwhile, many of America’s businesses ship their goods across the country by river and by canal, so we’ve got to make sure that those waterways are in tip-top shape. … This bill gives a green light to 34 water infrastructure projects across the country, including projects to deepen Boston Harbor and the Port of Savannah, and to restore the (Florida) Everglades. And with Congress’s authorization, these projects can now move forward,” he said.


California Marine Highway posts $6 million loss

Reed Fujii, staff writer for The Record in Stockton, Calif., wrote May 20 that the Marine Highway project barging containers between Stockton and Oakland, Calif., has posted $6 million in losses since it began operation nearly a year ago.

“To help stem the red ink, Port of Stockton Director Richard Aschieris announced May 19 that the port will enter into exclusive negotiations with one of the world’s largest container shipping companies to assume management and financial responsibility for the barge operations,” Fujii wrote. “Mediterranean Shipping Co. of Geneva has until Aug. 31 to examine the Marine Highway’s functions and costs, and to forge an agreement with the port to take on its operation.”

Fujii said if there is no agreement by the end of August, the Marine Highway would be made available to other interested parties.


Level of funding for port security grants worries AAPA

Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, testified June 4 that his organization was concerned about “recent dramatic cuts” to the Port Security Grant Program, which originally had been funded at the authorized level of $400 million but now only receives $100 million.

“Additionally, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) changed the period of performance to a strict two-year period which has resulted in a focus on easy-to-do projects and easy-to-purchase equipment rather than looking at the highest-risk needs,” Nagle said. “AAPA strongly urges FEMA to return to the system in which grants have a three-year term with a two-year extension allowed.”

Nagle’s testimony was submitted at a hearing on progress and challenges of port security held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Nagle also said that the AAPA supports the Department of Homeland Security’s recent two-year waiver of the federal requirement that 100 percent of containers be scanned overseas before they are loaded aboard a U.S.-bound ship. That mandate, Nagle said, has been found to be “unworkable” by DHS.


Rep. Hunter: Obama’s budget endangers USCG acquisition program

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, convened a hearing on U.S. Coast Guard readiness June 18 with the observation that while the Coast Guard acquisition program is starting to see success, “the president is yet again proposing a budget that could doom it to failure.”

“The president’s budget cuts funding needed to acquire critically needed replacement assets by 21 percent,” Hunter said. “This will further delay the delivery of new assets, increase acquisition costs for taxpayers, exacerbate growing capability gaps, and seriously degrade Coast Guard mission effectiveness.”

Vice Adm. Charles D. Michel, deputy commandant for operations, testified that recapitalization is “critical to sustain mission performance and to provide the expected service to our nation into the decades ahead.”

Also testifying was Michele Mackin, director of acquisition and sourcing management for the Government Accountability Office. She recommended, among other things, that the Coast Guard develop a 20-year fleet modernization plan that “identifies all acquisitions needed to maintain the current level of service and the fiscal resources necessary to build the identified assets.”

Mackin said the Coast Guard concurred with the GAO’s recommendation but that its response “does not fully address our concerns or set forth an estimated date for completion.” Mackin added that a “properly constructed 20-year fleet modernization plan is necessary to illuminate what is feasible in the long term and will also provide a basis for informed decisions that align the Coast Guard’s needs and resources.”


Coalition seeks national regulation of ballast water

A coalition of 58 national and regional organizations representing business, maritime and labor interests has signed on to a letter to Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., ranking member of the committee, urging the committee to mark up and approve S. 2094. The bill would establish a uniform, science-based national framework for the regulation of ballast water and other vessel discharges.

The coalition said the bill would remedy “the existing confusing, costly and inefficient patchwork of state and federal rules governing vessel discharges with which vessel owners must comply.”

The Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency currently regulate vessel discharges under two different statutory authorities, the coalition said. “And because neither federal statute pre-empts state action, more than two dozen states have established their own requirements for many of those same discharges — over 150 in all. This overlapping patchwork of federal and state regulations makes compliance complicated, confusing and costly for vessel owners and mariners.”


Proposal to expand definition of ‘U.S. waters’

Opponents of a proposal that the National Waterways Conference said would expand the definition of waters considered to be “waters of the United States,” subject to jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, have been given more time to file comments.

The proposed rule, the NWC said, provides that most seasonal and rain-dependent streams and wetlands near rivers and larger streams would be covered by the act. Bodies of water like ponds and lakes that lack direct hydrologic connections to other water bodies would be covered by a case-specific analysis.

The rule proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency on April 21 allowed comments to be filed by July 21. In response to stakeholder requests, the Corps and EPA extended the comment period to Oct. 20.

The proposal would clarify the scope of “waters of the United States” protected under the act, the Corps and EPA said. Their proposal makes clear whether a body of water is jurisdictional, and that discharges are subject to permitting, the two agencies added.

For more information, contact Donna Downing at (202) 566-2428.


By Professional Mariner Staff