BrownWater News June 2012

Pittsburgh plans ‘wireless waterway’ project

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission, initiating a major “wireless waterway” project, has awarded a $1.3 million contract to Conxx Inc., of Johnstown, Pa., to design, build and operate a wireless network system along the navigable waterways in Pittsburgh.

The contract includes a “test bed” that will cover the locks and dams in the Pittsburgh Pool at Emsworth (Ohio River), Braddock (Monongahela River) and Allegheny Lock No. 2 (Allegheny River), all in Allegheny County. A test bed would be an area developed specifically to allow companies considering improved security along a waterway to examine the capabilities of the Conxx wireless network system.

James R. McCarville, executive director of the commission, said that while Pittsburgh is a stand-alone project, it may also serve as a national model. The total cost of the contract includes a $975,000 federal Port Security Grant and $325,000 in matching funds from the commission.

“It will allow for the integration of cameras, sensors and security management systems as well as the exchange of rich data between vessels and between vessels and the government agencies with responsibilities along the river,” McCarville said. “The project will allow for more cooperative detection, response and recovery from potential or present terror risks on or near the waterways.”

The exchange of data is expected to result in significant efficiencies for the towing companies and in more reliable and up-to-the-minute information for decision-making for both private and public entities, McCarville said.

In anticipation of the project, the Army Corps of Engineers has been digitizing its systems to collect and transmit data faster and with fewer errors.

House passes Corps of Engineers spending bill for FY 2013

The House has passed a spending bill (H.R. 5325) that would provide $4.8 billion for the civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The bill would provide $2.5 billion for operation and maintenance, and $1.5 billion for construction, just $6 million above the budget request but $217 million less than this fiscal year’s enacted amount. The Senate bill would provide $1.7 billion for construction, $2.4 billion for operation and maintenance and $253 million for the Mississippi River and Tributaries.

A companion Senate bill (S. 2465), which would provide about $5 billion for the Corps, has been awaiting Senate action since April 26. The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed changing the cost sharing for Olmsted Lock and Dam, whose construction cost has soared to at least $3.1 billion. For one year only, in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, the Senate panel would reduce the Trust Fund share of the Olmsted cost from 50 percent to 25 percent, freeing up $72 million for several other navigation projects.

The House bill does not include the cost-share change. Whether that provision is retained in final legislation will likely be decided later this year.

Shortage of funds impacts locks operations in Louisiana

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to reduce the hours of availability at Jonesville and Columbia locks on the Ouachita and Black rivers in Louisiana because of the shortage of money needed to operate and maintain the Ouachita/Black Waterway.

The Corps plans to reduce the current schedule of 24 hours per day to 18 hours per day, separated into two nine-hour periods, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It is also proposed that the hours of availability at Felsenthal and H.K. Thatcher Locks on the Ouachita and Black rivers be reduced from the current 24 hours per day to 16 hours per day, separated into two eight-hour periods, 365 days a year.

The Corps said the intended effect of the reductions set to begin July 29 is to provide lock availability that matches existing lock usage and to help ensure that minimal dredging needs will be met. Pool levels will not be affected by the changes of operating hours.

For more information, contact Michael Kidby at (202) 761-0250.

Towing vessel operators urged to schedule safety exams

The Coast Guard is scheduled to begin phase two of the Towing Vessel Bridging Program (TVBP), the period of transition from uninspected to inspected status, on July 1.

Currently, 71 towing vessels operate in Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi’s waters and about 74 percent of towing vessels have participated in the program. Coast Guard towing vessel examiners have issued about 40 Coast Guard Towing Vessel Exam safety decals that identify the vessels as the ones in compliance with all current federal regulations.

Decals remain valid for three years based on successful compliance with existing regulations.

“Our goal is 100 percent participation,” said Michael White, a towing vessel specialist for the Eighth Coast Guard District. “We will be aggressively seeking out vessels that have not received an examination during phase two of this program.” Phase two will focus on the 18 towing vessels in the sector’s area of responsibility that have not yet participated in the program.

The Coast Guard partnered with the towing vessel industry and American Waterways Operators to develop and initiate the TVBP. The effort was in response to the high number of safety-related marine casualties that had occurred in past decades.

The main goal of the program is to help prepare the towing vessel industry to meet new, stricter safety regulations that were created in an effort to decrease groundings, collisions and other serious marine accidents.

Towing vessel owners/operators can schedule a dockside exam of their vessels by contacting Sector Corpus Christi at (361) 888-3162.

For more information, contact Eighth District External Affairs at (618) 225-9008.

NMC turns to e-mail for mariner notices

The National Maritime Center (NMC), of Martinsburg, W.Va., in an effort to improve its automated e-mail system, will send mariners who have provided e-mail addresses to the NMC an e-mail notification 90 days prior to the expiration of their Merchant Mariner Credential, License, Merchant Mariner Document, or Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping.

NMC advises mariners to ignore the e-mail notification if they have recently submitted applications for renewal of their credentials.

Questions about the e-mail notification should be directed to the NMC at (888) 427-5662.

Lack of dredging held ‘unacceptable’

Twenty-five senators told leaders of the House/Senate Conference Committee working on the reauthorization of the massive highway bill that the lack of dredging and maintenance at America’s federal ports and harbors “is simply unacceptable.”

In a recent letter to the committee leaders, the senators urged the committee to retain language in the House and Senate highway bills that would ensure that all funds deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund be “fully expended to operate and maintain the navigation channels of the United States, and not for other purposes.”

The senators reminded the committee that similar action was taken for aviation programs in the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century to more closely tie aviation trust fund revenue with expenditures in the Airports and Airways Trust Fund.

At a recent briefing for reporters, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she was “optimistic” that the House/Senate committee will reach agreement because the Senate bill has many proposals supported by the House. Boxer said the committee got off to a fast start because its members face a June 30 deadline when the current transportation extension expires.

Under consideration by the conference committee are two bills: S. 1813, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, a bill that would authorize $109 billion over two years, and H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II, which would authorize $260 billion over five years.

TSA to revise fee-publishing rules for TWIC, HME

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has invited comments by July 30 on a proposal to remove from current regulations specific fee amounts for obtaining Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) and credentials for Hazardous Materials Endorsements (HME).

TSA believes that by removing the specific fee amounts from current rules and publishing fee revisions in the Federal Register instead, the TSA would have necessary flexibility to lower or increase fees as necessary to meet the statutory obligation to recover its costs.

Details of the TSA’s proposal are in the Federal Register of June 13.

For more information, contact Carolyn Mitchell at (571) 227-2372.

Bill would delay TWIC renewal until new readers available

The House Homeland Security Committee has approved a bill known as the Securing Maritime Activities Through Risk-Based Targeting for Port Security (SMART) Act of 2012.

The legislation (H.R. 4251) would postpone until June 30, 2014, a requirement that TWIC cards must be renewed even in the absence of final regulations mandating new biometric card readers.

Applauding the committee’s approval was Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who provided the legislative language in H.R. 1105 extending the validity of TWICs until the readers are approved.

The cost of renewing a TWIC card is $132.50.

By Professional Mariner Staff