Brownwater News, April 2019
St. Lawrence Seaway opens for season, marks 60th anniversary
On March 26, the St. Lawrence Seaway marked its 60th anniversary with the opening of the 2019 navigation season. Federal Kumano, loaded with bulk titanium chloride, served as the opening vessel transiting the St. Lambert Lock on its way to the Port of Ashtabula in Ohio.
Canadian Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, among officials gathered at the lock for the anniversary, said the Seaway “will continue to play a pivotal role in Canada’s economy in the future.” Terence Bowles, president and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., said the Seaway “is equipped to effectively serve its stakeholders for decades to come. A multibillion-dollar fleet renewal program being undertaken by Seaway carriers points to a bright future ahead for the waterway.”
Seaway officials said the waterway enjoyed positive results in 2018, with 41 million metric tons of cargo moving through its locks. With continued momentum in the grain sector, the 2019 navigation season should help the Seaway reach 42 million metric tons of cargo, according to Garneau.
Craig Middlebrook, deputy administrator of the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., said the Seaway is “resilient and ready for the future. As the most efficient mode of transportation, with the lowest carbon footprints, marine offers an attractive means of boosting economic activity in a sustainable manner.”
Over the past 60 years, ships have transported almost 3 billion metric tons as they completed more than 340,000 transits of Seaway locks, officials noted. Beginning in Montreal and extending to points west, the Seaway’s 15 locks enable ships to climb 550 feet from sea level up to Lake Erie.
WCI chief urges full use of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund
Peter Stephaich, chairman of the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), advocated for full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to modernize the nation’s inland navigation infrastructure during congressional testimony on April 10.
At a hearing of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, Stephaich testified that a cost-share policy revision for Olmsted Locks and Dam doubled the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) to a $400 million annual program. The policy was changed from 50 percent IWTF and 50 percent General Fund to 15 percent IWTF and 85 percent General Fund.
The cost-share change allowed construction to proceed on three other priority navigation projects, including the Kentucky and Chickamauga locks, which had been suspended due to a lack of funding.
Stephaich urged the subcommittee to consider adjusting the cost-share ratio to 25 percent from the IWTF and 75 percent from the General Fund to keep the inland navigation capital program operating at or above the $400 million level.
Also testifying before the House subcommittee was Kirsten Wallace, executive director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, who explained how years-long conflict between economic and ecological interests on the Upper Mississippi River has given way to collaboration.
“In doing so,” Wallace said, “we moved (the region) from the gridlock of litigation to a whole new world of opportunity. There is a far greater power in standing for something, not against it.”
Turning to the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), Wallace said the plan forges alliances, “allies who can give Congress a solution, a hard-fought consensus, not a problem that needs to be fixed, not a choice Congress has to make between competing interests. NESP gives us solutions and a concrete path to work for.”
Army Corps working to clear silt from Tenn-Tom
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is back to work trying to open up the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom), which has been closed to navigation at Aberdeen Lock near mile 357. The problem at that point has been runoff that swept down the waterway in late February, dropping large amounts of silt.
Justin Murphree, the Corps’ operations project manager for the Tenn-Tom, said during a conference call April 2 that a crew was busy preparing a dredge at Aberdeen to begin opening a 150-foot pilot channel. Murphree added that it would take three to four weeks to clear the pilot channel before the dredge can return to mile 357 and finish dredging at that point.
Maintenance dredging on the entire length of the Tenn-Tom removes about 500,000 cubic yards of silt a year, Murphree said. Referring to funding, Carl Dyess, chief of technical support for the Corps’ Mobile (Ala.) District, said the Corps would need about $10 million to return the entire waterway to its authorized dimensions.
“The district has identified about $5 million so far, primarily by canceling a planned closure at Whitten Lock,” Dyess said. “Still, that’s only halfway there.”
Tenn-Tom Administrator Mitch Mays said that even given the current situation, the waterway “is a reliable route for moving cargo and materials.” The rain that caused this flooding, Mays added, was of “historical levels and this is a once-in-a-generation type event.”
Mays said the inland waterway system “is still the most affordable, reliable, and efficient mode of transportation available to industry.”
Buzby: MarAd ensures secure cargo transport for US
U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby, testifying on Capitol Hill earlier this month, described some of the contributions his agency has made “to ensure the nation’s safety, security and competitiveness.”
Appearing before the Senate Security Subcommittee, Buzby said the merchant marine is a “fundamental component of our national defense strategy. Our strategic sealift relies on a government-owned fleet and assured access to commercially operated U.S.-flag vessels, and the intermodal networks that these vessel operators maintain in support of our military forces anywhere in the world.”
As for contributions by the Maritime Administration (MarAd) to boost the nation’s competitiveness, Buzby referred to the grants available to the Department of Transportation. The fiscal year 2019 appropriations act provided $292 million for the Port Infrastructure Development Program, from which grants will be made available for port projects that improve the safety, efficiency or reliability of the movement of goods “into, out of, or around coastal seaports.”
Seaway increases draft for Montreal/Lake Ontario
Mariners have been notified that as of April 8, the St. Lawrence Seaway has increased the maximum allowable draft in the Montreal/Lake Ontario Section to 26 feet 6 inches, subject to water elevations.
The increase applies to all vessels, a Seaway notice said. There will be zero tolerance for a ship’s draft in excess of the figures specified in the notice, the Seaway added.