BrownWater News November 2012

U.S. Coast Guard legacy vessels labeled ‘generally poor’

A congressional panel looking into the condition of the U.S. Coast Guard’s equipment was told at a recent hearing that the Coast Guard’s older assets, or its so-called legacy vessels, offered the nation little to brag about.

In fact, Stephen L. Caldwell, director of the Government Accountability Office’s Homeland Security and Justice Issues group, testified that the physical condition of the legacy vessels was “generally poor” in fiscal years 2005 through 2011. Furthermore, Caldwell said a review of vessel condition assessments and inspections showed the condition of the legacy vessel fleet was “generally declining.”

“The maintenance managers for both the high endurance and medium endurance cutters reported that the performance of critical systems on these legacy vessel classes has become increasingly unpredictable and refurbishments of these vessel classes’ least reliable systems have brought limited returns on the investments,” Caldwell said. “Maintenance officials and vessel crewmembers also reported devoting increasing amounts of time and resources to troubleshoot and resolve maintenance issues because some systems and parts on these legacy vessel classes are obsolete.”

Caldwell noted that the Coast Guard reorganized its maintenance command structure to improve the condition of its legacy vessels, but that the condition of the vessels “continues to decline despite these efforts.”

Appearing before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, Caldwell spelled out more bad news when he said that delays in the delivery of replacement vessels will require the Coast Guard to continue to operate its legacy vessels beyond their originally expected service lives, widening the operational capacity gap. As a result, he added, the legacy vessels are expected to become increasingly unreliable and costly to maintain, he added.


Maintaining inland nav system called ‘formidable challenge’

A new report from the National Research Council concludes that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers faces an “unsustainable situation” in maintaining its national water projects at acceptable levels of performance.

The report, written by the Committee on the United States Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Science, Engineering and Planning, suggests expanding revenues and strengthening partnerships among the private and public sectors as options to managing the Corps’ aging water infrastructure, which includes levees and dams.

Maintaining the inland navigation system presents especially formidable challenges and choices for the Corps, the report said. Federal resources for construction and rehabilitation have declined steadily, and proposals to generate additional revenue by charging lockage fees to system users have been resisted historically. Parts of the system could be decommissioned but that must be decided by Congress. The committee, chaired by David Dzombak, professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., said that keeping the status quo of steady deterioration would entail significant disruptions in service.

“The country’s water resources infrastructure is largely built-out and there are limited sites to construct new projects,” Dzombak said. “Today, the Corps focuses mainly on sustaining its existing structures, some of which are in states of significant deterioration and disrepair. Funding for maintenance and rehabilitation of Corps water resources infrastructure — which includes navigation locks and dams, flood management levees and dams and other facilities — has been inadequate for decades. We now have a scenario where the water infrastructure is wearing out faster than it is being replaced or rehabilitated. Some components could be decommissioned or divested, but the Corps does not have the authority to do this.”

The report calls for an independent investigation of the opportunities for additional partnerships for operations and maintenance of Corps water infrastructure. “Given the complexities of each Corps mission area, opportunities for new arrangements and greater efficiencies need to be investigated separately and carefully to each mission area,” the report said.

The report said there was “no defined distribution” of responsibility between Congress and the Executive Branch for the existing national water infrastructure. 


Senators plan legislation to modernize ports, locks and dams

A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce legislation to modernize America’s ports, locks and dams, including the Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said that the bill, entitled the American Waterworks Act, would do two things to help ensure construction of Chickamauga Lock: The bill would free up funds in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for use on such priorities as the Chickamauga project, and it would double the amount of money in the fund by increasing the fees paid by commercial users. Money in the fund would be freed by ending the requirement that Trust Fund revenue be used to pay for the Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River, a project, Alexander said, that  “has been soaking up almost 90 percent of Fund revenue.”

The new 600-foot lock, expected to be completed by 2018 at an estimated cost of $693 million, would replace the existing 60-foot lock that was built in 1940. The total invested thus far on the new lock is $186 million.

Speaking at the lock site, the senator said the proposed legislation “would fix the way our ports and waterways are funded so that we can meet the challenges they face. Passing this bill would mean Chickamauga Lock gets the funding it will need to be completed.”

Besides freeing up Trust Fund money, Alexander said, the proposed legislation would provide full federal funding for maintenance of harbors up to 50 feet, instead of the current 45 feet; speed construction permit approval; and authorize a five-year harbor expansion.


Europe seeks compatible environmental and navigation policy

The European Commission is issuing new guidelines explaining how best to ensure that activities related to inland navigation are compatible with European Union (EU) environmental policy in general and nature legislation in particular.

The guidelines also emphasize the significance of inland navigation for securing long-term sustainability of the EU transport network.

“Inland waterway transport plays an important role in the transportation of goods across many parts of Europe,” said Siim Kallas, vice president and commissioner for transport. “This transport sector is considered to be safe, energy efficient and more environmentally friendly than other transport modes. But as it is one of many users of our rivers, it needs to be developed in an ecologically sustainable way.”

Janez Potocnik, commissioner for environment, hopes that the document will be “a useful tool to increase understanding between investors, planners, decision-makers and nature conservation promoters, enabling them to design sustainable navigation projects that meet the objectives of inland waterway transport while still respecting the ecological values of rivers.”

Maritime, roads groups seek funds for port, waterway projects

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association have agreed in principle to join forces to build “greater awareness of the need to significantly boost federal investment in the nation’s ports and waterways infrastructure.”

Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s president and CEO, said the partnership agreement calls for participation in each other’s committee meetings and policy discussions; the sharing of technical best practices; the exchange of information through newsletters and reports; and for the two associations to jointly appeal to members of Congress to develop and pass legislation that favorably impacts ports and waterways.

The memorandum was signed at the AAPA’s 101st annual convention last month in Mobile, Ala.

Also part of the convention was the formal installation of Armando Duarte-Pelaez as AAPA chairman of the board for 2012-13. Duarte, elected chairman by the board of directors last March, is owner and president of Association Dupela-Duaga Ltda., C.I., a mining developer as well as a freight transportation consultant and provider in Colombia.

Storm forces closure of New York Regional Exam Center

The National Maritime Center said that the Regional Examination Center in New York has been closed indefinitely due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy. All other RECs are operating on a normal schedule.

Merchant Mariner applications may be submitted via e-mail, fax, or the U.S. Postal Service to any other REC. The NMC said it would provide updates regarding REC New York once it is able to access the site and assess the damage.

By Professional Mariner Staff