Railroads eye final WOTUS rule
The nation’s major railroads are taking a close look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) final rule. In a statement on May 27, Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said the AAR “is undertaking a thorough analysis of the final WOTUS rule.”
Hamberger said the AAR is concerned that the final rule “does not include an explicit exclusion for ditches located adjacent to passenger and freight railroad rights-of-way.”
“Federal regulations require the construction and periodic maintenance of these ditches to carry rain and storm water away from rail lines in order to ensure their safety and integrity,” he said. “In the next few days, we will be examining and reacting to exactly how the final rule treats railroad ditches.”
Concerns aired at briefing on inland waterways system
Constant maintenance of critical components and fewer delays that drain profits out of the pockets of shippers and commercial barge and towing companies were among major concerns aired June 16 in a two-hour briefing in Washington, D.C., by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) on the nation’s inland waterways system.
Six panel participants, including three members of the TRB’s Reinvesting in Inland Waterways Committee that compiled the report, concluded that the waterways’ most critical need “is a sustainable and well-executed plan for maintaining system reliability and performance that ensures efficient use of limited navigation resources.”
Among the panelists was Michael Toohey, president and CEO of the Waterways Council Inc., who found fault with recommendations to maintain the existing lock infrastructure and its “Depression-era capacity, without knowing anything about the risk of failure or economic consequences.”
To make his point, Toohey showed a slide of a truck — a 2.5-ton, 1924 Brockway — that he said was “well-maintained, capable of carrying 1 ton of freight at a top speed of 24 mph.”
“Think about the economic consequences to our nation if decision-makers had relied upon a recommendation to maintain this icon, yet that is the recommendation of this panel for inland transportation components,” he said.
Turning to beneficiaries, Toohey said the report mentions that there are many beneficiaries of investments in the waterways but that there is no mention of certain utilizations or financial contributions already made to the U.S. Treasury.
Citing data from the Institute for Water Resources, Toohey said recreation lockages comprise 48 percent of the total lockages on commercial, fuel-taxed waterways. He said they cause the same wear and tear as a commercial lockage but “they pay nothing for capital or maintenance, or operations.”
Lawmakers unhappy with implementation of WRRDA
Administrators of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Program gave the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee a brief progress report June 10 on the implementation of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) a year after the legislation was signed into law.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works), and Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, the Corps’ chief of engineers, testified at the hearing that the Corps has continued to maintain “a strong focus on implementation guidance to national policy provisions.”
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee holding the hearing, said that while the implementation guidance for some of the categories has been completed, the guidance for others is still under development.
“For example, WRRDA 2014 contained many acceleration provisions, including a simple, common-sense provision that created a permanent Section 214 (Inland Waterways Revenue Studies) program,” Shuster said in an opening statement. “However, the Corps seems to be slow-walking implementation guidance related to permit acceleration.”
Gibbs said that while the WRRDA law may be complicated “in some places,” the subcommittee remains “disappointed at the pace and the prioritization at which the Corps of Engineers is carrying out the drafting of the implementation guidance. Today, at the one-year anniversary of the enactment of WRRDA 2014, we would hope — and expect — the Corps would put more of a priority in writing the implementation guidance. After all, WRRDA is the law of the land — it is not a suggestion for the administration to casually disregard.”
Water and highway bills need ‘regular’ attention
James C. McCurry Jr., senior director of administration and government affairs for the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 9 that it was important for the nation to address both highway and water legislation on “a regular basis.”
Speaking at a congressional roundtable meeting in Atlanta, McCurry said the nation “has got to invest in both of our land and water infrastructure if it’s going to be competitive in terms of trade.”
During a telephone interview May 8, McCurry said he would tell the committee that Georgia is doing “everything that it can to advance the ball, so to speak, on transportation investment, but we can’t expect Georgia to be out there on our own” with regard to both water and surface transportation. Noting that there are state and federal cost-share programs involved in maintaining the nation’s infrastructure, McCurry said it was “critical that we continue to make sure that the investments are being made so that we do not fall behind other countries in terms of trade, safety or transportation efficiency.”
McCurry was among several Capitol Hill lawmakers and transportation executives invited to the Atlanta meeting by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the committee, to discuss the region’s infrastructure, its importance to the economy, and the need for legislation that improves the nation’s highways, bridges and other transportation systems.
WCI urges Congress to appropriate $10 million for NESP
The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) urged House and Senate appropriators June 18 to budget $10 million in fiscal year 2016 for pre-engineering design work in connection with the Navigation Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP).
In two letters signed by 67 stakeholder organizations from the conservation, labor, agriculture and shipping/waterways communities, the WCI said that NESP will create and support tens of millions of job-hours for skilled construction trades, as well as expand and sustain jobs at grain elevators, manufacturing facilities, ports and terminals.
Authorized in WRDA 2007 but not yet under construction, NESP is a multipurpose authority allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to integrate management of the Upper Mississippi River System’s infrastructure with ecosystem improvements. NESP includes construction of seven modern 1,200-foot navigation locks at the most congested lock locations (Locks and Dams 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 on the Upper Mississippi River, and La Grange and Peoria Locks on the Illinois Waterway).
“Over the last 150 years, the ecological health of the Upper Mississippi River has degraded from multiple uses and alterations but could be substantially improved with NESP’s implementation,” the WCI said in its letter. “Ecological system improvements include modified dam operations, 65 backwater and island enhancements, 29 side channel reconnections, 92 modifications to channel structures, and system ecological monitoring to document river health and support riverine and riparian habitat.”
Coast Guard releases cyberstrategy for water transport
Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, has released the service’s cyberstrategy to ensure the prosperity and security of the nation’s Maritime Transportation System (MTS).
Zukunft said June 16 that he was confident that the Coast Guard could meet cyber risks and challenges “in a way that benefits the marine industry, protects privacy and maintains the safety and security of our maritime environment.”
The Coast Guard’s cyberstrategy is a comprehensive framework that identifies three strategic priorities critical to the service’s effort to defend the maritime domain. The priorities are secure and resilient information networks; a diverse set of cyber capabilities and authorities; and protection of the maritime infrastructure from attacks, disasters and accidents.
Open season for FY 2016 VISA program ends July 31
The Maritime Administration has announced that the 30-day open season for fiscal year 2016 applications for participation in the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) program will run until July 31.
Any U.S.-flag vessel operator organized in the United States who is able and willing to commit militarily useful sealift assets, including tugs and barges, and assume the related consequential risks of commercial disruption, may be eligible to participate in the VISA program. Successful applications remain effective for five years.
The only exception to the open season period would be for a non-VISA carrier that reflags a vessel into U.S. registry. That carrier may submit an application at any time upon completion of reflagging.
The VISA mission is to provide commercial sealift and intermodal shipping services and systems to the Department of Defense (DOD) to meet national defense contingency requirements or for national emergencies.
Carriers enrolled in the VISA program provide DOD with assured access to shipping services during contingencies. In return for their commitment, DOD gives VISA participants priority for peacetime cargoes.
For more information, contact William G. Kurfehs at (202) 366-2318.
Viking Cruises readies Mississippi River service
The National Waterways Conference unveiled a plan by Viking Cruises to launch a Mississippi River service in late 2017 from New Orleans.
As announced by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Cruises, the service will operate from docking facilities near the French Quarter in New Orleans to Baton Rouge, La., Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis, Mo., or St. Paul, Minn.
Plans call for the construction of six new vessels over the next three years at an estimated cost of $90 million to $100 million per vessel. All of the riverboats, with accommodations for up to 300 passengers, will be built in U.S. shipyards and crewed by U.S. citizens.