AWO reports mixed effect from shutdown
A survey conducted by the American Waterways Operators (AWO) showed that the government shutdown that began Oct. 1 had a mixed effect on the inland waterways industry. Jennifer Carpenter, senior vice president of national advocacy for the AWO, reported that the Army Corps of Engineers assured the industry that operations and maintenance of navigation locks would continue with minimum staffing levels and that dredging of navigable waterways would continue.
The Coast Guard told Carpenter that active-duty personnel are not subject to furlough and they would report to work as usual throughout the shutdown.
“Civilian Coast Guard personnel who are classified as ‘essential’ will continue to report to work, while those not deemed ‘essential’ are furloughed and are prohibited from working during the shutdown,” Carpenter said.
Tank barge inspections and exams were conducted if they were scheduled by active-duty or “essential” civilian personnel. Regional exam centers were closed, Carpenter said. Exam appointments and appointments to drop off applications were canceled and will be rescheduled after the shutdown ends. Online scheduling was not available during the shutdown. Credential applications, which can be mailed or e-mailed during the shutdown, will be processed after the shutdown.
The Transportation Security Administration reported that Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) enrollment centers remained open and the TWIC Help Desk (866-DHS-TWIC) remained active during the shutdown. Individuals could apply for and activate TWICs as usual.
Carpenter also reported that the Environmental Protection Agency launched the Electronic Notice of Intent (eNOI) system on Sept. 30 and is now accepting NOI submissions for coverage under the 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP). However, customer support for users of the system was suspended during the shutdown. EPA created eNOI for construction sites, industrial facilities, pesticide users and vessel operators to apply for coverage and to submit reports required under the EPA’s general permit regulations.
Carpenter was advised on Oct. 1 that Coast Guard sectors and units were making different decisions about activities that would be curtailed. It was understood from AWO members that the Coast Guard in New Orleans and Houston wouldn’t be renewing Certificates of Inspection (COI).
In another report, Timothy Skuby, director of the National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC), said that all business related to commercial vessels was suspended until the government resumed operations. The limited number of on-site staff focused on processing recreational vessel applications.
Skuby said that the NVDC recognizes the impact the government shutdown will have on the maritime industry, “particularly the commercial portion of the industry.” He said the center would do whatever it could to minimize the impact and to speed the recovery.
Merchant Marine Academy closed by shutdown
At Kings Point, N.Y., administrators of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy announced that the day after the midshipmen observed the academy’s 70th anniversary, the facility closed its doors because of the government shutdown.
As noted on the academy’s website Oct. 1, “Due to a lapse in funding, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is closed for normal operations.”
WRRDA crawls toward finish line
Supporters of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2013, which was passed Sept. 19 by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, expect the House to move toward final action on the measure sometime this month.
During the markup session preceding the voice vote passing the bill (H.R. 3080), committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said WRRDA is “the most policy- and reform-focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades. Even the bill’s new name reflects the landmark reforms included; the extra ‘R’ in the title stands for ‘reform.’”
Shuster said the bill would cut red tape, accelerate project delivery, limit the time and cost of studies, require concurrent reviews, and streamline environmental reviews.
“A top priority of this bill is fiscal responsibility,” he said. “WRRDA deauthorizes $12 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to the current law, and fully offsets new authorizations.”
Initiatives addressed by the legislation include program reforms, navigation improvements, deauthorizations and infrastructure. Spelled out in a section-by-section explanation are provisions that:
• Authorize the secretary of the Army (SA) to enter into agreements with non-federal interests to finance construction of at least 15 water resources development projects.
• Authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to place dredged material in a nearby shoreline system to protect coastal infrastructure and reduce emergency repair costs.
• Reaffirm that water resource development acts should be considered by Congress every two years (the last WRDA was passed in 2007).
• Set target expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, increasing each year so that by fiscal year 2020, and every year thereafter, no less than 80 percent of the funds collected go to operation and maintenance activities.
• Require the SA to consolidate coastal navigation expertise into one location.
• Require the SA, for all projects on inland waterways, to utilize certified project managers and risk-based cost estimates, identify best management practices to speed project delivery, and develop a portfolio of standard design for inland navigation locks.
• Require the comptroller general of the United States to prepare an evaluation of the current method of collection of the fuel taxes for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) and to review alternative methods of collection.
• Require the SA to study the feasibility of issuing tax-exempt bonds secured against available proceeds in the IWTF, and to evaluate alternative revenue options, including those recommended by the Inland Waterways Users Board, for financing inland waterways projects.
• Authorize a change in cost sharing to provide that for each fiscal year after the date of enactment, 25 percent of the cost of construction for the Olmsted (Ill.) Project shall be paid from the IWTF; provide that expenditures for the Olmsted Project should be not less than $150 million annually until completion; and require that for any inland navigation project that costs more than $500 million, the SA shall submit to Congress an annual financial plan for the project.
Vessel inspection rules aligned for seagoing barges
The Coast Guard has adopted a final rule revising several vessel inspection and certification regulations to align them with a statutory definition of “seagoing barge,” and with a statutory exemption from inspection and certification requirements for certain seagoing barges.
The Coast Guard said the revisions are intended to eliminate ambiguity in existing regulations, to reduce the potential for confusion among the regulated public, and to help the Coast Guard perform its maritime safety and stewardship missions.
The final rule, spelled out on 52 pages of the Aug. 29 Federal Register, became effective Sept. 30. Questions about the new rule can be addressed to William Abernathy, who can be reached by calling (202) 372-1363.
AWO urges inspections for towing vessels
The American Waterways Operators made a strong pitch Sept. 10 for the adoption of Coast Guard regulations on towing vessel inspections, also known as Subchapter M.
Noting that Congress directed the Coast Guard to undertake that effort more than nine years ago, Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of the AWO, said that “we need to get the towing vessel inspection rule done, and done right, right away to advance our shared goals of improving safety, security and environmental stewardship.”
Allegretti testified at a hearing called by the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee to review the status and potential ramifications of recent or proposed regulations by the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and the Maritime Administration (MarAd). The second part of the hearing, which will focus on environmental regulations, will be scheduled later this month.
Allegretti said that in the past 20 years, there has been continuous improvement in towing vessel safety but that “the missing link” is publication of the towing vessel inspection rule that will raise industry safety standards. The federal rulemaking process does take time, Allegretti acknowledged, “but we are very frustrated that this congressionally mandated rulemaking has taken so long, and there is no clear end in sight.”
Paul Jaenichen, acting U.S. maritime administrator, testified that MarAd’s future regulations will include efforts to improve Marine Transportation System infrastructure and increase the carriage of cargo. Jaenichen said MarAd is drafting a proposal for the America’s Marine Highways (AMH) program.
“While the original AMH program made eligible only those corridors and projects that would reduce landside congestion, recent statutory changes authorized the inclusion of projects that ‘promote short sea transportation’ generally,” Jaenichen said. “MarAd plans to incorporate the statutory change into its regulations.”
12 TIGER V grants go to ports
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has announced that 52 projects will receive about $474 million from TIGER V, the fifth round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.
Breaking down the total, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, said that 12 awards totaling $103.7 million will go to projects that aid the movement of goods through America’s seaports.
Of the 12 awards, the largest sum, $14 million, will go to the Jackson County Port Authority in Mississippi to upgrade the rail connection at the Port of Pascagoula’s Bayou Casotte Harbor.