Engineering society warns of failure to renew waterway infrastructure
Jerry A. Bridges, executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, warned Sept. 13 that if the current level of investment in the highways and waterway infrastructure serving ports persists, “The losses to our economy will affect not only our nation’s output, but our ability to create and sustain new jobs.”
“The impacts will result in about 738,000 fewer jobs by 2020 and almost 1.4 million fewer jobs by 2040,” Bridges said.
The port official was among speakers at the unveiling of a new report released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in Washington, D.C. The report detailed trade impacts of failing to invest in America’s seaports and inland waterways.
“If you take away only two things from my remarks today, I’d like you to remember the figures $7.9 trillion and $4 trillion,” Bridges said. “The $7.9 trillion number is the cumulative loss in business sales through 2040 that the ‘failure to act’ report estimates will occur as a result of inadequate investment in our shallow-draft and deep-draft ports and harbors. The $4 trillion number is the cumulative loss in our national GDP through 2040 that will result from the same lack of investment.”
Bridges stressed that as the nation invests in infrastructure, “we must ensure that ports and their water- and land-side needs are high on the priorities list. This includes navigation channels, as well as roads, rails, intersections, bridges, tunnels and overpasses that connect our nation’s ports to the rest of the transportation grid.”
Furthermore, Bridges said, funding for dredging federal navigation channels has slowed and decreased. “Maintenance dredging is sorely under-funded, despite a nearly $7 billion surplus in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund,” he said. The report says that the additional costs of goods due to insufficiently dredged navigation channels were estimated at $7 billion in 2010 and are expected to increase to $9 billion by 2020 and to $14 billion by 2040, Bridges added.
Discussion of the report was opened by Andrew W. Herrmann, president of ASCE, who observed that wider and more efficient waterway navigation locks will provide “faster and more reliable service.” He said that while inland waterway and seaport sectors are significant, investment trends are not keeping up.
Among steps that Herrmann said could be keep U.S. waterways competitive would be to for Congress to pass a WRDA (Water Resources Development Act) bill, develop a national freight plan that prioritizes improvements, spend the funds already collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for their intended purpose, address the funding shortfall in the Waterways User Trust Fund, and streamline the project approval and delivery process.
According to the report, the greatest threats to the performance of the inland waterway system, are “the scheduled and unscheduled delays caused by insufficient funding for operation and maintenance needs of locks governing the traffic flow on the nation’s inland system.”
About 90 percent of locks and dams on the U.S. inland waterway system experienced some type of unscheduled delay in 2009, the reported noted.
The full “Failure to Act” report can be found at www.asce.org/failuretoact.
NWC offers 'objectives' for a new WRDA
Amy W. Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference (NWC), offered lawmakers several "objectives" to consider while working on a new Water Resources Deveopment Act (WRDA).
Writing to Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which met Sept. 20 to evaluate WRDA legislative and policy proposals, Larson urged the committee to ensure that all funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund be used for harbor maintenance, as intended.
Larson also asked the committee to consider, among other things, enacting a long-term funding solution for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, and to develop a levee safety program that does not create additional unfunded federal mandates or programmatic requirements.
“Regular authorizations to permit the U.S. Army Corps of Enginers to address critical wate resources needs are essential to our nation’s environmental well-being and our economic vitality,” she said. “Equally important is the development of rational, balanced, common-sense policies and programs that recognize the multiple uses of water and the essential contributions of a healthy and environmentally sound water resources infrastructure to the nation's economic prosperity, public health and national security.”
Feds acknowledge work still to be done to improve maritime security
Testifying on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Stephen L. Caldwell of the Government Accountability Office told a U.S. House of Representative subcommittee that while there has been progress made in maritime security, there is still some “unfinished business” implementing the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA).
Caldwell, director of Maritime Security and Coast Guard Issues, told the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee that while there had been hope that every container bound for the United States could be secured and scanned before arrival, the Department of Homeland Security has to “re-evaluate what can actually be done within the existing technical, logistical, economic and diplomatic realities of the container-based international supply chain.”
Caldwell also concluded that the congressional mandate that DHS establish Interagency Operation Centers (IOC) in all high-risk ports “has been plagued by limited and irregular funding, delays in developing detailed requirements, a lack of input from other stakeholders, and weak management of the acquisition.” Caldwell said it remains “an open question” whether the still-planned IOCs will be more than just single-agency command centers or IOCs that Congress envisioned.
Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chairman of the subcommittee, continued to press the Coast Guard for action on card readers in the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program.
At the hearing where lawmakers looked back over 10 years of MTSA, LoBiondo said in opening remarks that the Coast Guard now expects to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking sometime this fall, well over three years later than the original deadline for issuing a final rule (on the use of TWIC card readers). “As we continue to wait out theses delays, the TWICs are no more than a flash pass,” LoBiondo said. “Without the readers in place, we are forcing maritime employees to pay for something that does not serve its intended purpose and we are undermining security at our nation’s ports.”
Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, Coast Guard assistant commandant for preparedness, said the rulemaking would exclude certain mariners from the statutory requirement to obtain and hold a TWIC in order to receive a merchant mariner credential.
Bethann Rooney, a member of the American Association of Port Authorities’ Security Committee, testified that America’s seaports are safer than they were before MTSA but that “major challenges” still exist in several areas, including the TWIC reader evaluation and testing process, funding for the Port Security Grant program, and upgrading threat detection equipment at ports.
As for the TWIC program, Rooney, security manager at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the lack of a final TWIC card reader specification and certification process “makes it impossible to identify cards that have been reported as lost, stolen, revoked or suspended.”
Touching on cargo security, Christopher Koch, president and CEO of the World Shipping Council, told the subcommittee that the safety and security of container operations would be improved by an effective international requirement that the weight of all loaded containers be verified before being loaded onto ships for export.
Container weighing is required in the United States, Koch said, but most nations do not have such requirements. Inaccurate weights can lead to safety risks for the vessel and crew and longshore workers, collapsed container stacks and containers going overboard, he said. “It is a problem that needs to be remedied,” Koch added.
Contract talks resume as longshoremen threaten strike
At the request of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), leaders of the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance have agreed to resume labor contract negotiations during the week of Sept. 17.
In a statement announcing resumption of negotiations, George H. Cohen, director of FMCS, said that because of “the sensitivity of this high profile dispute and consistent with the agency’s longstanding practice, we will not disclose either the location of the meeting or the content of the substantive negotiations that will take place.”
The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) had asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for help in encouraging port management and labor to return to the negotiating table and resume talks on a new labor contract covering operations at the nation’s east and Gulf coast ports.
In a letter to LaHood, Bruce Carlton, president and CEO of NITL, said the League was “extremely concerned about the dire consequences that would impact the nation’s freight system and our economy as a result of a bi-coastal shutdown.”
Talks between the ILA and the Marine Alliance broke off Aug. 28, when members of ILA Local 1804-1 authorized their president, Dennis A. Daggett, to call for a strike, if necessary, when the current master contract expires Sept. 30.
Coast Guard requests comment on medical waivers for mariners with heart ailments
The Coast Guard has invited public comment regarding criteria for granting medical waivers to mariner credential applicants who have anti-tachycardia devices or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD).
The Coast Guard said it is considering changing current policy that does not permit the waiving of anti-tachycardia devices or ICDs. The Coast Guard said it would accept comments from the public on the criteria that a mariner would have to meet to become eligible for waiver consideration and whether the proposed criteria for waivers would adequately address safety concerns regarding merchant mariners with ICDs. A list of criteria the Coast Guard is considering before granting a waiver was published in the Federal Register of Sept. 7.
Comments should be identified by docket number USCG-2011-0734 and submitted by Oct. 9.
For more information, contact Lt. Ashley Holm at (202) 372-1128.