VTS planned for Lower Mississippi River

VTS planned for Lower Mississippi River

The U.S. Coast Guard has invited interested parties to file comments on a proposal to establish a Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) on the Lower Mississippi River and to transfer certain vessel traffic management provisions of the Louisiana navigation area to the VTS.

The Coast Guard said the proposed rule, which has been under consideration for more than a decade, would implement current practices and operating procedures appropriate to an Automatic Identification System (AIS)-based VTS and would facilitate vessel transits, enhance good order, promote safe navigation, and improve existing waterway operating measures.

Comments identified by docket number USCG-1998-4399 may be submitted via http://www.regulations.gov by Jan. 11, 2010, or they must reach the Docket Management Facility (M-30), U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Washington, D.C., 20590-0001, by that date.

For more information, contact Lt. Cmdr. Jim Larson, Office of Shore Forces, at (202) 372-1554.

Nominees for Maritime Administration, FMC

President Obama has nominated David T. Matsuda for promotion to Maritime Administrator, and Louisville attorney Michael A. Khouri to serve as a member of the Federal Maritime Commission.

Matsuda, who has been Deputy Maritime Administrator since last July, served as acting Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy from March 2009 until his appointment as MarAd deputy.

Khouri, an attorney with the Louisville-based Pedley & Gordinier law firm, deals with transportation and maritime law. He has been president and CEO of MERS/Economy Boat in Memphis, Tenn., and senior vice president of Jefferson-based American Commercial Lines. He began his career as a deck crewman for Paducah, Ky.-based Crounse Corp., where he worked his way up to captain.

A confirmation hearing was held for Khouri Dec. 15 by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

NWC urges more investment in water resources infrastructure

The National Waterways Conference (NWC) has urged its members to contact their senators and congressmen, to ask them to support efforts to increase investment in water resources infrastructure in any forthcoming legislation that would help create jobs.

“Our nation faces challenging economic times, and we reiterate the call for significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure as means of providing an immediate and lasting impact on our economy,†said Amy W. Larson, president of the NWC.

Larson said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation have construction and operations and maintenance backlogs for which additional funding would create immediate construction employment opportunities.

“Given our nation’s unemployment crisis, this is an area that is ripe for job creation. In the construction area the unemployment rate is hovering at 20 percent,†she said.

In a letter addressed to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and to other House leaders last month, Larson made a similar appeal, expressing the organization’s support for additional funding for the nation’s water resources infrastructure.

“Reliable, well-maintained water resources infrastructure is fundamental and critical to America’s economic and environmental well-being, and is essential to maintaining our competitive position within the global economy,†Larson said.

House authorizes $10 billion for Coast Guard

The House has passed a bill that authorizes $10 billion for the U.S. Coast Guard in fiscal year 2010, $200 million above the president’s budget, and includes provisions addressing marine safety, Coast Guard management structure, acquisition reform and workforce development. Among other things, the bill authorizes $153 million for the design and construction of a replacement icebreaker for the Great Lakes.

Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that the Coast Guard bill (H.R. 3619) requires the Coast Guard to conduct comprehensive testing and evaluation of all major assets, and directs the Coast Guard to develop independent cost estimates for the service’s largest acquisitions. 

Crowley christens new ATB tank vessel

Crowley Maritime Corp. has christened the seventh of 10 new 185,000-barrel articulated tug-barge (ATB) tank vessels that the company will take delivery of in 2010 and 2011. The vessels christened were the tug Pride and barge 650-0. Crowley Petroleum Services will charter the VT Halter Marine-built ATB from Crowley’s vessel construction naval architecture subsidiary, Vessel Management Services, and operate it for Marathon Petroleum under a time-charter agreement. Crowley already has six 185,000-barrel and four 155,000-barrel ATBs in the Jones Act trade.

In addition to the remaining three 185,000-barrel ATBs, Crowley said it would introduce its 750-series vessels that will carry 330,000 barrels in 2011.

Senators want Army Corps report on mandated peer reviews

Six senators have asked the Obama administration for further information on the status of reforms mandated by the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.

In a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army (civil works), the senators inquired about the directive to institute peer reviews of large or controversial Army Corps of Engineers projects, the requirement to conduct safety reviews for qualifying projects and a requirement to strengthen the agency’s environmental mitigation process.

“Three of the most significant of these programmatic reforms, independent peer review, safety assurance review, and mitigation reforms, became effective upon enactment,†the letter said. “We are extremely concerned that almost two years later, little progress has been made to implement these critical reforms.â€

The letter was signed by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and four other senators.

Communications technologies sought for inland waterways

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission has applied for a $35 million federal grant for the deployment of two communications technologies at 200 “hot zones†throughout the inland waterway system to create a “Waterways—Intelligent Transportation System.â€

The technologies include AIS, which the Coast Guard has deployed at major U.S. seaports, and wireless broadband, which can accommodate more business as well as governmental communication uses.

James R. McCarville, executive director of the commission, said the project is a nonstructural way to make the waterways more efficient and more environmentally friendly. “Digital communications on the waterways, to date, have not been modernized to take full advantage of other technology developments,†he said. “Cell phone air cards have limited bandwidth with spotty coverage in rural areas. Satellite connections have sufficient bandwidth, but are expensive and impractical for transmission of large amounts of data.â€

Corps sets meetings to discuss Missouri River study

A series of focus group and tribal meetings in support of the Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study is being sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The meetings will stretch over several months and will be conducted in various locations throughout the Missouri River basin and along the Mississippi River.

The first three meetings were held Nov. 19 in Kansas City, Kan.; Dec. 8 in Bismarck, N.D., at the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library, and Dec. 14 in Rapid City, S.D.

The next focus group meetings will be in St. Louis, Jan. 12, 2010; Omaha, Neb., Jan. 14; Pierre, S.D., Jan. 26; Billings, Mont., Jan. 28; Columbia, Mo., Feb. 4; New Orleans, Feb. 9, and Memphis, Tenn., Feb. 11.

The focus groups, aimed at identifying initial priorities and a communications strategy, are not the formal scoping meetings, the Corps said. Those meetings are planned for the summer of 2010. Notice of those dates and sites will be announced later in the spring. 

Boustany questions use of tax money in HMTF

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) has urged writers of the anticipated Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2010 to make it clear in the final bill that all of the tax deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) will be used for its intended purpose.

Boustany, among several members of Congress offering WRDA-2010 proposals at a hearing of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, said he was concerned about the impacts on federal ports and harbors that cannot be fully maintained with existing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding levels.

In 2008, he said, the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) — 0.125 percent on the value of imports and domestic cargo — collected more than $1.6 billion from shippers to pay for dredging projects, but that only $766 million of dredging costs were reimbursed from the fund.

That meant that ports and harbors were unable to dredge to their authorized project dimensions, he added.

“Without a channel dredged to its authorized depth, a port’s livelihood is threatened,†Boustany said. “Due to inadequate dredging, public ports are at a critical stage in keeping their channels open for business. We lose existing business and potential new business to ports outside of the United States — and once lost, it is rarely regained.â€

Seaway fixes closing dates for 2009 navigation season

Saint Lawrence Seaway executives have set closing dates for the 2009 navigation season on the international waterway.

As for the Montreal-Lake Ontario (Mo/Lo) section of the Seaway, they said that all vessels must be out of the area by midnight Dec. 29. Furthermore, the U.S. and Canadian Seaway corporations have decided to waive the operational surcharges on Dec. 21 to 24. Any transit of the Mo/Lo section of the Seaway after midnight Dec. 24 will be subject to prior written agreement.

The Welland Canal will remain open until midnight Dec. 26.  As in the Mo/Lo section, any transit of the Welland after midnight Dec. 26 will be subject to prior written agreement. Vessels will be allowed to transit the Welland until midnight Dec. 30, weather and operating conditions permitting.

The official closing date for the Sault Ste. Marie locks (U.S.) will be midnight Jan. 15.

AAPA urges greater use of marine highways

The American Association of Port Authorities, a supporter of inland and coastal waterway transportation, has urged Congress to make authorization of a multiyear surface transportation bill a key legislative priority for 2010.

In a letter to congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the association, said that passage of “this nationally important bill must be a clear priority for Congress in the coming year.â€

Nagle said that among the changes needed in the next surface transportation bill is establishment of a national freight program, including investments in funding for projects and corridors of national and regional significance, intermodal freight connectors and greater use of our marine highways.

Repairs to Markland Locks delayed until April

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it does not expect to complete until April repairs to the Markland Locks and Dam on the Ohio River.

The main chamber was closed Sept. 27 when a 250-ton miter gate fell into the water. The damaged gate was examined at the bottom of the dewatered lock chamber and lifted from the bottom on Nov. 10 for repairs.

About the Author:

Carlo Salzano has been in journalism since graduating from La Salle University in 1948 as a chemistry major. That’s right, chemistry. He began his career as a copy boy at the Philadelphia Inquirer, before moving on to United Press International in Philadelphia, Charleston, West Virgina, Baltimore and Washington. After 14 years, Carlo joined Traffic World magazine and stayed on for 23 years, retiring as editor in 1990. A majority of Carlo’s time at Traffic World was spent covering the maritime community and he continued on in the maritime field while freelancing throughout his “retirement.” He is married and has three children and eight grandchildren.

By Professional Mariner Staff