NMSAC September 2012 Meeting Part 2

The National Maritime Security Advisory Committee (NMSAC) reconvened without a quorum on the morning of September 12th to hear about and discuss the two remaining agenda items, Using the Marine Highway for Hazardous Cargo and Port Security Grants. The Committee also heard a statement concerning CDC tracking and discussed its future meetings.The all-day session on September 11th had dealt with Cybersecurity, Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and Information Sharing, Requirements for foreign Detain On-Board seamen, US/Canadian Regulatory Harmonization, Integration of Facility Security Plans and Systems, and Radiation Portal Monitoring Replacement and Relocation.  Problems with both internet and telephone audio feeds persisted, so the following is, at best, an approximation of the meeting.

Utilization of the Marine Highway for the Protection of Metropolitan Areas from Hazardous Cargo

Ms. Lauren Brand of the Maritime Administration (MARAD) started her brief with an overview of the Marine Highway.  The program, which envisions reliable, regularly scheduled, competitive, and sustainable transportation over waterways to reduce highway congestion, has a legislative mandate and is a stated priority of both the Secretary of Transportation and the Maritime Administrator.  The program encourages the use of “short sea” transportation through development and expansion of documented vessels, shipper utilization, port and landside infrastructure, and marine transportation strategies by State and local governments.  MARAD has spent about $175 million for various projects.  Eligibility for funding requires that the project: Be on a designated Marine Highway Corridor; have public sponsorship; expand or enhance an existing service, or create a new, service; have business plans, etc. that indicate market support; use documented vessels; and haul containerized or trailerized freight.  Marine routes are designated as extensions of the surface transportation system, generally using the number of the pertinent interstate highway (e.g., the East Coast Marine Highway Corridor is denominated M-95).  The map depicts the Marine Corridors designated in 2010.  Applications for new designations are welcome.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in The 21st Century Act (MAP – 21), enacted in July 2012, will lay the baseline for the future of the US freight and passenger transportation system.  Although this law contains lots of highway language, Ms. Brand suggested that there were sections dealing with marine issues as well.  (Note:  The PDF of MAP – 21 is 584 pages long.  I don’t pretend to have read much of it, but the only section heading that was clearly maritime deals with ferries and ferry terminals.  Section 1115 directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish the “National Freight Network” to assist States in allocating resources to improve movement of freight on “highways, including national highway systems, freight intermodal connectors and aerotropolis transportation systems.”  Unless marine highway corridors count as “freight intermodal connectors,” which, I suppose, is possible, they are left out.  (The process for establishing the National Freight Network is all about highways and freight volumes moved by trucks.)  The focus in on the States and MARAD is seeking maritime coordinators within Departments of Transportation in the 36 states having a piece of Marine Highways system.  Only six of these States DoTs have a dedicated marine department or division.  Nonetheless, Ms. Brand feels “[t]he Stars are coming into alignment” for the Marine Highway program.  She next discussed two examples of grant funds in action.  In California, grants paid for landside improvements and two barges that will provide service between Stockton and Oakland for agricultural exports.  Service is expected to start in October 2012 and to provide “major relief of [the] congested I-580 corridor.  As it stands, 80% of drivers live in the Stockton area, drive to Oakland to pick up and empty containers and return to Stockton for stuffing, before returning with the load to Oakland.  The service will allow containers to be stuffed in Stockton to the maximum load limit without regard to road weight limits.  Ms. Brand’s other example was the 64 Express Marine Highway Service, in operation since 2008 between Norfolk and Richmond, providing “relief of [the] congested I-64 corridor.  MARAD’s grant funds paid for the barges.  It moves about 450 TEUs a month.  At first, this didn’t seem like a lot of congestion relief (15 or fewer trucks a day), but the service operates only two days a week.  On those days, over 50 trucks could be taken off the road.  Nationwide, the volume of freight being trucked on roads where there are parallel Marine Highway Corridors demonstrates tremendous potential for the program.  Ms. Brand then turned to the subject of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) on the Marine Highway system.  Various laws govern the routing of HAZMAT by road, rail, and pipeline.  The States have a role in what road can and can’t be used.  Rail carriers are responsible for selecting routes that minimize safety and security risks, as well as for minimizing time in transit and increasing security of HAZMAT in storage.  MAP – 21 authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to implement a HAZMAT technical assessment, research and development, and analysis program in order to (1) reduce the risks associated with transporting HAZMAT and (2) identifying and evaluating new technologies to facilitate safe, secure, and efficient HAZMAT transport.  Using information gathered by, and coordinating with “other modal administrations” is required by the law.  Ms. Brand responded to a question on whether there was a parallel effort to look at the regulations on what may be carried on vessels by saying that MARAD’s focus was on designating routes and building infrastructure.  Another questioner asked how MARAD would overcome resistance to using marine highways for HAZMAT transport that was based on the idea it would not be cost effective.  Ms. Brand said that MARAD was wrapping up three corridor studies (M-5, M-55, and M-95) that would shed light on this issue.  The Report should be available soon.  There are not a lot of suitable vessels and the cost of new builds is high.  While some may be looking for subsidies, there are new places where companies are finding cargoes.  New services are starting up.  The current position of the Marine Highway System is similar to the beginnings of the Interstate Highway System.  The Federal Government will not fund it all or subsidize operations.  MARAD worked with the Navy to produce dual use designs for vessel that are now available.  The North American short sea shipping group, composed of Canada, the US, and Mexico, agreed to look at where on the North American continent  short sea shipping can be used to promote redundancy and resilience and to relieve congestion at border crossings.  Initially, California and the Great Lakes look promising.

Port Security Grant Funding Priorities

The audio went on the fritz for almost the entire prepared part of the Port Security Grant presentation by an analyst with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Port Security Grant Program.  The audio returned in time for the question and answer period, albeit not at very high quality.  A NMSAC member noted that many in executive management of ports around the country were taking the attitude that “we can’t afford grants.” The combination of the cost-share and continuing maintenance requirements hurts the bottom line.  This member asked how the USCG envisioned overcoming this attitude and creating instead a culture of security enhancement.  The response was that the USCG chain of command had discussed this with FEMA, DHS, and Congress.  By law, the cost share is 25%.  The USCG has advised all parties that the maritime industry considers this burdensome, and that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Another NMSAC recalled NMSAC’s resolution of using port security grant moneys for anti-piracy protective equipment aboard US-flagged ships and asked if the resolution had “gain[ed] any legs at all.”  The briefer said he didn’t recall any projects for this being submitted.  There had perhaps been some proposals for communications systems and ferry vessel camera systems.  FEMA has reached out to some ferry systems to see what they needed, but probably couldn’t expand beyond that without legislative changes.

 Another NMSAC member deplored a change in the FY12 Port Security Grant Program selection process involving review of grant proposals at the national level.  Based on her review of the list of awards, it appeared that money had been given to fund more applications, at the expense of the highest priority projects, which had not been fully funded.  She asked what the rationale was for not fully funding the highest priority items.  The briefer replied that it had been decided to use the competitive selection method because funding for the Port Security Grant Program was down and because monies from previous grants was being spent at differing rates by the grantees.  Some ports were pulling down the funds quickly, others more slowly.  Projects were selected for what they could do to mitigate maritime risks.  The NMSAC member responded that ports had submitted their proposals ranked in order of priority.  As an example, out of a grouping of 37 projects, 35 had received some funding.  But the top 10 projects had been funded only at between 25% and 40%.  That funding had been given to projects of lesser importance when the highest priority projects weren’t fully funded was a concern to ports.   The briefer replied that the National Review Panel (NRP) had selected the best projects using risk allocation formulas.  The NMSAC Chair observed that this was an aspect of providing more guidance.  How should selection criteria be looked at?  At a previous NMSAC meeting, a FEMA briefer had said very specifically that if funding had been given to areas that were not appropriate, less appropriate, or not as effective as they could be, the first line of defense is the evaluation of the Captain of the Port (COTP).  NMSAC had considered providing additional guidance to COTPS, but concluded that the value was in having had the discussion at the meeting.  The Chair then asked if COTPs had looked at revaluating how the evaluated grant proposals.  The member who had started the discussion interjected that local guidance to COTPs is irrelevant if the NRP did not consider the evaluations of local experts in making its awards, as evidenced by funding 35 out of 37 projects, but not funding the COTP’s top concerns in full.  She asked again what the rationale was for funding many projects instead of funding the top priority ones in full.  Regional funding totals could have remained the same by funding the COTPs’ highest priorities.  Projects funded only at up to 40% probably wouldn’t get done.  The Chair asked who was on the NRP.  The briefer’s answer was that it was made up of representatives of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), the Buffer Zone Protection Program, the Maritime Administration (MARAD), and the USCG, with FEMA facilitating.  Final decisions are made at the Secretary’s level.  Another NMSAC member commented that this was an aspect of an argument that was five to six years old.  What is needed is a strategic plan for each port that, once approved, would provide the road map for priorities and sequencing of security projects.  Right now, every year we start over with a new set of projects and new selection guidance.  There is no continuity in these grant programs at either the local or national level.  A port should not have to apply for grants any more.  How much grant money it received would determine how far down the project list it would be able to get.  Grants should be tied to plans.

 A representative of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) asked about the status of the Administration’s proposal to bundle all FEMA grant programs together and let the States parcel out the money.  The FEMA briefer replied that it is still being discussed within the Administration, but he did not know at what levels.  It’s in the President’s Budget request, although there appears to be push-back in both Houses of Congress.  It will depend on what happens after the election.  The AAPA representative then recalled an exchange of correspondence with DHS about DHS having cut the Port Security Program more than the percentage Congress had cut grant programs generally.  DHS said the rationale was that there was so much money granted in previous rounds that had not be spent yet.  Is the amount of money in the pipeline still a problem?  There’s an educational function with Congress.  Many of these projects are long-term, stretched out over years by financial reviews, environmental and historical reviews, quite complicated state and local requirements that must be met before breaking ground, etc.  But we’re better off than we were a year ago.  A NMSAC member commented that the process of getting authorization to start spending grant money typically takes six to nine months.  Procurements processes also take a long time.  Before you know it, you’re pushing up against the two-year grant limit and have to apply for an extension.  NMSAC should push for restoration of the three-year grant period.  Another NMSAC member “strongly” urged FEMA to put together a training program on how to manage grants and projects associated with grants, as well as the system.  He had observed a significant lack of these skill sets in the maritime industry.  The FEMA briefer had a final comment on the priority issue.  Every project is reviewed for what it says it’s going to do.  The comments of the Area Maritime Security Committee and the COTP, and any comments from MARAD are taken into consideration.  COTP comments, selections, and priorities are looked at, and always have been.  The FY12 weighting factor for the COTP decision was 60%.  So the COTP’s desires are looked at, but not always selected.

Public Comment

A written submission from a representative of Maritime Information Systems, Inc. (MIS) was read into the record.  The company sees the Intracoastal Marine Highway as a great resource for shipping certain dangerous cargos (CDCs) within the US.  Barging is the safest and most efficient form of transportation available.  Although individual cargo shipment risk is reduced, increasing the quantities of CDCs shipped in the maritime transportation system will increase the overall risk of incidents.  After 9-11, the Inland Rivers Vessel Movement Center (IRVMC) was established to track high-risk CDC shipments.  Until it was deactivated due to funding in January 2011, IRVMC used old fashioned methods, such as phone, fax, and e-mail, when tugs entered 94 distinct zones.  IRVMC’s methods were highly cost ineffective and produced a very low-resolution picture.  MIS has developed a CDC tracking system that would provide over 1000 times better resolution and tracks barges every six seconds at well over 10,000 sites along the Western rivers system.  Reporting would only need to be done twice—when the cargo is loaded and unloaded—rather than every few miles, as was required under the IRVMC system.  The company asks NMSAC to consider recommending resumption of CDC tracking now that it can be done cost effectively with high resolution.

Future Meetings

NMSAC then discussed framing issues for its November 7th teleconference, which will be a noticed public meeting, and its first 2013 meeting (tentatively scheduled for the last week of January).  The teleconference will firm up issues for the January meeting, which will include follow up on the Radiation Portal Monitors (RPMs) issue (with a brief from Customs and Border Protection), further discussion and a possible resolution on Port Security Grants, and framing out how to respond to the cybersecurity tasking.

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By Professional Mariner Staff