BrownWater News, November 2014

Midterm elections yield ‘a mix’ for waterways stakeholders

Debra Colbert, senior vice president of Waterways Council Inc., concluded Nov. 5 that the midterm elections yielded “a mix of outcomes for waterways stakeholders.”

On the positive side, “key Senate leadership and committee assignments will be filled by waterways transportation champions,” Colbert said. In the House, she added, leadership positions will remain in waterways supporters’ hands, including the speakership and chairs of the Appropriations and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.

While the Senate elections may have pleased waterway stakeholders, results of some House election returns did not.

“Bipartisanship really took a hit with the defeat of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s ranking member Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), and ranking Water Subcommittee member Rep. Tom Bishop (D-N.Y.),” Colbert said. “Mr. Rahall is the epitome of a legislator who can reach across the aisle and pass legislation. Together with Congressman Bishop, Mr. Rahall provided the opportunity to form a formidable team with Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) to pass the only significant authorization bill of 2014, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

“This is what the voters of 2014 said they want — bipartisan solutions worked out through mutual respect and compromise. These two outstanding legislators will be missed.”

Financial help sought for upper Mississippi locks, ecosystem

Dru Buntin, executive director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, said Sept. 2 that he was “hopeful and optimistic” that President Obama would respond favorably to pleas for financial support for the upper Mississippi River’s commercial navigation locks and ecosystem.

In a joint letter dated Aug. 20, the governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin asked Obama for his support for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) authorized by Congress in 2007.

Buntin said the governors are asking for funds for small-scale navigation improvements and for planning at least one of the seven 1,200-foot lock chambers authorized by Congress within NESP. Buntin said the governors “would love” to see the money in fiscal year 2015 but would be satisfied to have it show up in the administration’s FY 2016 budget request.

The states believe that the lock chambers in the current “single point of failure” inland waterway system are in need of auxiliary chambers to handle barge traffic whenever the main 1,200-foot locks have to be shut down for repairs or maintenance, Buntin said. They point to the two-month closure of the new Mel Price chamber this year that would have “completely halted” traffic if it had not been for the availability of its auxiliary lock.

The small-scale navigation projects authorized would include switch boats, mooring cells and a guidewall extension. Also authorized was ecological restoration funding.

Doyle boosts LNG as marine fuel

Federal Maritime Commissioner William P. Doyle assured vessel owners and operators Sept. 4 that it “appears there is plenty of space for the maritime industry to utilize liquefied natural gas as a marine fuel.”

Speaking at the Marine Log All About Marine Conference & Expo in Biloxi, Miss., Doyle said the Energy Information Administration and the Potential Gas Committee have estimated that there is a 100-year supply of natural gas in the United States.

“Utilizing natural gas as marine fuel would help shipowners and operators comply with international requirements to reduce air pollution from oceangoing vessels,” Doyle said.

Barge tank cleaners urged to review ISGOTT procedures

The Coast Guard has recommended that personnel involved with tank cleaning, stripping or gas freeing of flammable cargoes review the fifth edition of the International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT) and fully comply with all related regulations and operating manuals.

In an Oct. 9 Marine Safety Alert, the Coast Guard said that recent explosions aboard barges engaged in tank-cleaning operations alongside marine terminals have resulted in serious injuries to vessel crews and facility workers, catastrophic property damage, as well as harm to the environment.

“A review of related casualties has revealed that vessel personnel, facility personnel and shoreside managers failed to ensure that established procedures and safe practices were followed,” the safety alert said. “Specifically, the operational manuals and regulatory requirements were not routinely followed by those involved. As a result, unintended and disastrous consequences occurred.”

The most common causal factor associated with the tank barge explosions is that the person in charge “failed to follow key operating manual procedures,” the alert said.

Bill would test 100 percent container scanning

Legislation to test the possibility of screening all containers at United States ports has been introduced by Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The legislation, H.R. 5455, would authorize the appropriation of $30 million for a one-year pilot program at two domestic ports to evaluate the process of 100 percent scanning of cargo containers and its potential for use at all domestic ports.

Congress urged to ‘Hit the HMT Target’

House and Senate appropriators are being urged by scores of letter writers to support Harbor Maintenance Tax work funded at a level that hits the target established in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.

“Additionally, we support allocating fiscal year 2015 and future years’ HMT work consistent with WRRDA 2014’s allocation authorizations,” the letter writers said. In July, the House “Hit the HMT Target” — the slogan of the letter campaign — of $1.17 billion in its energy and water appropriations bill. The Senate subcommittee report, however, proposes to appropriate $1.07 billion, which the American Association of Port Authorities said “does not hit the target.”

“Full use of HMT is urgently needed for safe and efficient freight transportation and is desired by navigation stakeholders,” the letter writers said. “Congress, through WRRDA 2014, committed to achieve full use of HMT through incremental increases over a 10-year period, with FY 15 being the first year. It is vitally important that this commitment be met.”

NWC offers WRRDA ideas to Army Corps

Amy W. Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, has submitted comments in response to four webinars held by the Army Corps of Engineers to receive input while it develops guidance to implement the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.

The webinars, held Aug. 13, Aug. 27, Sept. 10 and Sept. 24, and Larson’s comments focused on deauthorizations and backlog prevention; funding provisions in the new law; dam and levee safety and regulatory issues, and non-federal implementation of studies and projects.

Addressing the subject matter taken up at the first webinar, Larson urged the Corps not to use the same metrics when developing deauthorization recommendations that it uses in developing its year-to-year operation and maintenance requests.

“Current funding metrics serve to pit one waterway against another, leading to bias against smaller systems (and) ignoring the economic activity associated with the smaller systems,” Larson said.

In a discussion of alternative funding, Larson encouraged the secretary of the Army to move forward “in an expeditious manner to establish the pilot program to allow the acceptance of funds contributed by non-federal interests to increase the hours of lock operations along the waterways. Many local communities have been detrimentally impacted by the reduction of service hours at locks and seek to use this new authority to keep their locks open for recreational boating and fishing. Given the significant economic importance of such activities, we encourage prompt implementation of this authority.”

Addressing the third webinar, which was devoted to levee and dam safety and regulation, Larson said that development of levee safety guidelines “must integrate valid risk-reduction measures put in place by local governments and which further the longstanding federal commitment to cost-benefit analysis as a basis for evaluating policy changes and their impact to national well-being. Clear statements must be made about anticipated economic and financial implications associated with guideline promulgation and implementation.”

AAPA seeks funds for dredging commitments

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) sent a letter Oct. 22 to leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees, urging them to meet the dredging funding commitments made in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) that was enacted in May.

More than 400 individuals or representatives of ports, corporations and associations signed the letter. It is part of a campaign led by the AAPA and U.S. Chamber of Commerce to impress upon lawmakers the need to annually fund what was authorized in WRRDA. 

Senators and members of the House also are being encouraged to sign “Dear Colleague” letters urging lawmakers to craft a final appropriations bill that meets WRRDA’s spending targets and allocation provisions.

In July, the House approved fiscal year 2015 appropriations that closed in on the $1.2 billion Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) target. However, the Senate subcommittee report, issued in July with no further action, proposed an amount that is $100 million shy of the first-year WRRDA appropriations target.

TSA administrator announces retirement

John S. Pistole, the longest-serving administrator in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), has announced his retirement from public service, effective at the end of this year.

Pistole’s retirement will end 31 years of service in the federal government, including four and a half years at the TSA and 26 years at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The TSA said he is expected to be named to a position in academia in the coming weeks.

Pistole was nominated to the position of TSA administrator in May 2010 by President Obama and was confirmed by the Senate in June 2010.

By Professional Mariner Staff