Brownwater News, September 2020

Bipartisan bill would boost Great Lakes icebreaking capacity 

The Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA) is among numerous organizations expressing strong support for a bipartisan bill that would pave the way for increased icebreaking capacity for the Great Lakes fleet.

By codifying into law the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes, the service would be required to break ice in accordance with the “reasonable demands of commerce” set forth in the bill, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 15.

The LCA, which represents U.S.-flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes, said a reduced number of Lakes icebreakers — down from 20 in 1979 to 11 today — and the fact that most are over 40 years old impacts their ability to keep commerce moving when ice clogs waterways. And adequate icebreaking will be more crucial than ever this winter as ships need to replenish stockpiles of raw materials vital to the U.S. economic recovery, said LCA President Jim Weakley.

“This historic bill will codify into law a longtime Coast Guard mission that protects national and economic security,” he said. “It provides congressional direction and performance metrics. Currently, the Coast Guard interprets the ‘reasonable demands of commerce’ as meaning that an ice-covered waterway is open until a second vessel is stuck in the ice for more than 24 hours as a result of another vessel’s inability to move. They only report to Congress ice restrictions in four connecting channels for the entire Great Lakes.”

A study commissioned by the LCA found that during the 2018-2019 ice season, businesses that depend on the Great Lakes maritime industry lost over $1 billion in revenues because of delays caused by inadequate icebreaking. These economic losses resulted in the loss of over 5,000 jobs throughout the region, the study said.

EPA delays Tier 4 requirements for pilot boats, lobster boats

Pilot boats, lobster boats and some other high-speed commercial vessels have been granted more time to comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier 4 marine diesel engine emissions requirements.

The EPA agreed on Aug. 19 to delay implementation for these vessels but kept its requirements — which took full effect in 2017 — in place for new towboats and tugboats.

The American Waterways Operators (AWO) had urged the EPA to expand the definition of vessels that could qualify for temporary relief from the Tier 4 standards to include inland and coastal towing vessels with lower horsepower engines.

“In both the final rule and in conversations with AWO, the EPA has committed to monitoring the progress of Tier 4 engine installation and operation on the inland waterways to address the concerns AWO and our members have raised about the feasibility of implementing the technology on smaller towing vessels in the inland sector,” said Caitlyn Stewart, AWO senior director of regulatory affairs.

This commitment is important, she said, because “many towing vessel operators have identified technical and operational challenges to the installation and operation of Tier 4 engines on smaller, lower horsepower inland towboats, and the agency needs to work with operators, boatbuilders and engine manufacturers to ensure its rules are practicable and reasonable.”

Cargoes down at Great Lakes-Seaway ports, but officials hopeful

The Chamber of Marine Commerce reports that cargo tonnage was down by 8 percent through July 31 in Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway ports, but there is some encouraging news.

Year-to-date shipments of iron ore (down 13 percent), coal (down 16 percent), dry bulk (down 12 percent) and liquid bulk (down 20 percent) were offset in part by gains for bi-national grain (up 6.7 percent) and general cargo like wind turbines (up 4 percent).

“It’s good to see overall grain shipments up, thanks mainly to strong Canadian grain exports. We are optimistic that grain shipments, both Canadian and U.S., will have a significant impact in the coming months as the 2020 crops come in,” said Bruce Burrows, president and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. “But the Great Lakes-Seaway shipping industry has lost a lot of ground due to the pandemic, and continued decreases in areas like dry bulk and iron ore are a reflection of the economy not yet being back up to speed.”

While the numbers are down, port leaders are emphasizing the need for perspective and hope.

“This has certainly been a difficult year to accurately forecast shipping levels,” said Dean Haen, director of the Port of Green Bay. “The impact of COVID-19 is being felt throughout the Great Lakes and beyond. But we remain cautiously optimistic for a good finish for the remainder of the 2020 shipping season.”

Coast Guard study aims to improve safety on shallow-draft waterways

The Coast Guard wants feedback from affected maritime stakeholders as it analyzes the shallow-draft system that applies to waters less than 12 feet deep.

The study will determine the navigational needs and requirements of vessels operating in shallow-draft navigable waterways throughout the country. It will focus on its existing shallow-water aids to navigation (ATON) system, future development projects, waterborne commerce transiting these waters, and marine casualty information. The study is expected to lead to updated policies that improve safety and efficiency.

Comments can be made at through Nov. 1. Comments and questions also can be emailed to using the subject line: “Shallow Draft WAMS.”

Ports earn awards at annual AAPA convention

At the 109th American Association of Port Authorities annual convention in September, the AAPA honored 28 port authorities around the country with environmental improvement, facilities engineering, information technology and communications awards.

The awards, given annually since 1973 to recognize activities that benefit the environment at member ports, were presented during the “Together Apart” virtual convention Sept. 21-23. A full list of winners is available at

The association, which represents 130 seaport authorities in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, also honored Rickey “R.D.” James as Port Person of the Year for leading the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to streamline processes for maintaining and improving America’s civil works infrastructure, including its deep-draft shipping channels.

“We appreciate every entrant and congratulate every winner in this year’s AAPA awards programs,” said Christopher Connor, AAPA president and CEO. “When port authorities work with their many stakeholders, including their communities, business leaders and policymakers, to develop projects like the ones entered into these competitions, they’re better able to demonstrate their tremendous value as drivers of economic development, environmental enhancement and job creation.”

By Professional Mariner Staff