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Brownwater News, October 2018

Oct 18, 2018 11:27 AM

River carriers, ports applaud passage of WRDA 2018

The nation’s river carriers and ports expressed their support of the Senate for its passage Oct. 10 of a bill that includes the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018, which authorizes Army Corps of Engineers’ work on locks and dams, dredging and other resources projects.

The Senate voted 99 to 1 in favor of S. 3021, America’s Water Infrastructure Act. The bill, passed in September by a voice vote in the House, awaits the president’s signature.

The legislation does not authorize enactment of lockage fees and/or tolls on the inland waterways system, a key concern for maritime operators. The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), which joined the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) in praising the Senate for its passage of the measure, continues to oppose additional taxes, tolls, lockage fees or “adverse changes in cost sharing for the inland waterways transportation system.”

“The passage of WRDA 2018 is a win for the nation’s towboat operators, freight shippers, ports and labor and conservative groups that rely on an efficient inland waterways system,” said Mike Toohey, chief executive officer and president of the WCI. He added that the council is "deeply appreciative” of the bipartisan leadership shown in the Senate and House to keep the WRDA process running biannually.

Kurt Nagle, AAPA president and CEO, said that passage of the bill “continues the trend of streamlining maritime infrastructure improvements by expediting evaluations, enabling timely decisions and providing greater funding flexibilities, as well as authorizing new projects.”

AAPA concerned about tariffs' impact on ports

With the Trump administration’s announcement in mid-September of an additional $200 billion in protective trade tariffs against Chinese imports, the American Association of Port Authorities continues to urge consideration of the negative effect that the levies — and retaliatory responses — have on U.S. ports.

The new measure took effect Sept. 24 with the imposition of a 10 percent tariff, which will increase to 25 percent by the end of the year. Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the AAPA, said that while he was concerned by the list of protective duties imposed on Chinese imports, he was pleased that port cranes aren't among the commodities subject to the tariffs.

“Tariffs on these cranes, which cost upwards of $14 million each, would have harmed ports’ ability to make the investments necessary to handle the larger vessels now being used in ocean trade, and hurt U.S. international competitiveness,” Nagle said. “Because trade supports everyone, AAPA is encouraging federal policymakers to work swiftly to restore market certainties and forge paths to expand U.S. exports, rather than create new import restrictions.”

Towing vessel incidents down 24 percent in 2017

A recent safety report by the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Waterways Operators (AWO) states that there was a 24 percent decline in towing vessel incidents on the nation's waterways in 2017 from the previous year.

In 2017, there were 934 reported towing vessel incidents, compared with 1,231 in 2016. The report said there were six operational crew fatalities among the 13 deaths that occurred on towing vessels in 2017. Of the six crew fatalities, four were related to two vessel incidents. The other two deaths occurred in separate incidents.

The National Quality Steering Committee examined three safety measures to track overall trends in towing vessel safety and environmental protection: crew fatalities per 100,000 towing industry workers, gallons of oil spilled from tank barges per million gallons transported, and the number of towing vessel casualties (overall and by incident severity).

According to Coast Guard records, 84,319 gallons of oil were spilled as a result of 49 tank barge pollution incidents in 2017. The three largest spills accounted for 99 percent of the total volume of oil spilled.

Waterways conference, Army Corps to hold joint meeting

The National Waterways Conference and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are planning a daylong partnership meeting on Nov. 1 in the offices of Van Scoyoc Associates in Washington, D.C. The NWC said attendees will discuss the new Section 408 engineering circular and activities involving the Corps’ Levee Safety Program.

The NWC said the circular (1165-2-218) is intended to articulate the mission, principles and objectives of the program, provide a comprehensive resource for how the program is organized and operates, and document requirements for decision-making for levees. The circular also is intended to consolidate and update various subject-specific guidance currently being used by the Corps since the creation of the safety program in 2006. In conjunction with the program, the Corps also has been revising its levee inspection procedures.

Attendees also will discuss circular 1165-2-220, which updates the Corps’ processes and criteria to review requests to alter Civil Works projects. The NWC said that many of the views and concerns expressed to the Corps' leadership at a partnership meeting in April 2016 and in comments filed earlier this year are addressed in this new guidance.

“The Nov. 1 meeting will provide an opportunity to delve into the mechanics of the new process and ask questions about applicability,” the NWC said.

New WCI member expands shipbuilding focus

The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) has announced that a new member, Metal Shark, which operates shipyards in Louisiana and Alabama, has expanded its focus to offer steel pushboats, towboats and tugboats.

Metal Shark, best known for building military vessel fleets, employs more than 500 at three shipyards, the WCI said. The yards are in Jeanerette, La., Franklin, La., and the former Horizon Shipbuilding in Bayou La Batre, Ala. The Alabama yard has nine fabrication and assembly buildings and extensive infrastructure to support the construction of steel vessels.

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