Brownwater News, March 2017

Coast Guard sets drug-testing rate at 25 percent

The U.S. Coast Guard has set this year’s minimum random drug-testing rate at 25 percent of covered crewmembers.

The Coast Guard requires marine employers to establish random drug testing on inspected and uninspected vessels. Every marine employer is required by law to collect and maintain a record of drug-testing data for each calendar year, and submit that data by March 15 of the following year in an annual Management Information System (MIS) report.

The purpose of setting a minimum drug-testing rate is to assist the Coast Guard in analyzing its approach for deterring and detecting illegal drug use in the maritime industry. The Coast Guard may increase the announced rate if MIS data indicates a qualitative deficiency of reported data, or if the positive random-testing rate is greater than 1 percent. MIS data for 2016 indicates that the positive rate is less than 1 percent.

Seaway navigation season to open March 20

The Montreal/Lake Ontario Section and the Welland Canal on the St. Lawrence Seaway are scheduled to open their 2017 navigation season at 8 a.m. Monday, March 20. Vessel transits will be subject to weather and ice conditions. Restrictions may apply in some areas until lighted navigation aids have been installed.

The opening of the Sault Ste. Marie locks and canals in the United States is currently scheduled for March 25.

Seaway administrators cautioned that in the Montreal/Lake Ontario Section, the maximum allowable draft will be 26 feet 3 inches until the South Shore Canal is ice-free or until April 15, whichever occurs first. At that time, if water levels are favorable, the maximum draft will be increased by 3 inches for all vessels.

Senate panel OKs national standard ballast regulation

Still awaiting action by the U.S. Senate is S. 168, a measure that would create a single national standard for the regulation of ballast water and other discharges incidental to normal vessel operations. The measure, the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, was approved Jan. 24 by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The legislation was approved three times by the committee in the 114th Congress. Companion legislation was expected to be reintroduced soon in the House.

A group of about 300 organizations seeking passage of the Senate bill told Senate leaders in a recent letter that the legislation would provide vessel owners and mariners “with a predictable and transparent regulatory structure in which vessel incidental discharges are regulated and enforced by the Coast Guard.”

New WCI videos focus on waterways infrastructure

The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) has developed a series of videos aimed at educating audiences about the importance of inland waterways infrastructure and the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP).

As part of the education campaign, WCI has produced four videos that, along with more information about NESP, can be found on the WCI website: ​​

For more information, contact Debra Calhoun at (202) 765-2153.

South Carolina sets port record, looks to expand

The South Carolina Ports Authority reports that it handled 1.99 million TEU in 2016, surpassing the previous record 1.98 million TEU handled in 2005.

Among the projects that the Ports Authority is focusing on is the expansion of its inland port network, with a second inland port facility in Dillon, S.C.

The South Carolina Inland Port Greer handled a record 103,639 rail lifts in 2016, an increase of 38 percent over the previous year.

US transport to handle 7.6 trillion ton-miles in 2045

The National Industrial Transportation League reports that the United States transportation system will carry 7.6 trillion ton-miles in 2045, up from 5.1 trillion ton-miles in 2015, according to projections by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Federal Highway Administration.

The projected increase in ton-miles was determined by the Freight Analysis Framework (FAF), a partnership between the two agencies that integrates data from a variety of sources to create a comprehensive picture of freight movement by all modes of transportation.

FAF data are available for the base year of 2012 through 2015, with forecasts for 2020 through 2045 in five-year intervals.

In another projection reported by the NIT League, the Energy Information Administration said prices for crude oil are expected to rise only modestly this year and next.

Lawmakers: US ports need full use of HMTF receipts

Leaders of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee have urged President Trump to fully utilize funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to maximize the capability of the Army Corps of Engineers to operate and maintain the nation’s ports and harbors.

In a letter dated March 9, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., chairman of the subcommittee, and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member of the panel, told the president that the action they seek would have an “immediate benefit to our nation’s economy and to the thousands of businesses, industries and workers that rely on the efficiency of U.S. ports and harbors.”

Graves and DeFazio told Trump that while $9 billion “sits idle” in the trust fund, another $1.5 billion is expected to be collected in fiscal 2018. At the same time, while the Harbor Maintenance Tax is being collected from users of coastal and inland ports, HMT revenues “are diverted away from their statutorily intended purposes — maintaining our U.S. ports and harbors,” the congressmen said.

But there’s more. The two lawmakers told the president that the nation’s 59 busiest ports have only half of the channel width available about half of the time, and the condition of the nation’s mid-sized and small commercial ports is worse.

“The Corps estimates that the total average annual cost of simply maintaining the nation’s navigation channels to full depths and widths is $2.3 billion during the first five years,” the two congressmen told Trump. “After five years, the average annual cost decreases to an estimated $1.9 billion.”

House subcommittee hearing paves way to WRDA 2018

The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing March 9 to explore the role of federal agencies in building water infrastructure for the future. The hearing represented the first step in the development of a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill for 2018.

Rep. Garret Graves, chairman of the panel, said at the hearing that bureaucracy is “ineffective, disruptive and has contributed to our infrastructure’s state of decay. Doing things the same old way won’t get us to a 21st-century system. As we work with the president on enhancing infrastructure investment, fixing these broken processes will be key to getting the job done.”

By Professional Mariner Staff