Brownwater News, December 2019
NWC urges ‘resilient’ water resources infrastructure
Julie Ufner, new president of the National Waterways Conference (NWC), stated last month that it takes “a resilient water resources infrastructure” to help Civil Works projects deliver their benefits as intended.
Testifying at a hearing of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee on Nov. 19, Ufner said the NWC was pleased to weigh in on the importance of “a robust water resources infrastructure for our nation, and to address potential next steps for a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that may be considered by Congress in 2020.”
Ufner said that where infrastructure is in place, communities tend to experience a lesser degree of physical harm and economic damage.
“Our shared goal ought to be that ensuring appropriate investments are made up front to prevent, or at least lessen, the need for disaster relief after the fact,” she said. Not only will such an approach save taxpayer money, “it will also mitigate the difficult decisions later on how to address devastation, and whether and where to rebuild. Stated another way, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Ufner added that failing to invest adequately at the front end “only to require significant disaster relief funding later is simply unsustainable.”
Ufner also reminded the industry that the revised definition for “Waters of the U.S.” is expected in February 2020. She said that policy for domestic, municipal and industrial water supply uses of reservoir projects operated by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected next September.
Seaway sets closing dates for 2019 navigation season
In an announcement of the closing dates for the 2019 navigation season, the American and Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway corporations said they have decided to waive the operational surcharges in the Seaway’s Montreal-Lake Ontario (MLO) Section on Dec. 21, 22, 23 and 24.
The corporations said that any transit of the MLO section after midnight Dec. 24, if permitted, will be subject to prior written agreement. Arrangements are to be made at the office in St. Lambert, Quebec.
Regardless of operating conditions, “all vessels must be clear of the MLO section at noon Dec. 31, 2019,” the corporations said.
As for the Welland Canal, any vessel transit after midnight Dec. 26, if permitted, also will be subject to prior written agreement. Arrangements are to be made at the office in St. Catharines, Ontario. The canal will remain open until noon Jan. 8, 2020, operating conditions permitting.
Closing of the Seaway’s Sault Ste. Marie Locks (U.S.) is scheduled for Jan. 15, 2020.
Shipowners and operators are advised that there are a number of ports east of the Seaway (St. Lambert Lock) on the St. Lawrence River that remain open to navigation during the winter months.
Mariners are urged to refer to Seaway Notice No. 17-2019 for more detailed information regarding the closing of this year’s navigation season.
DOT issues ‘rule on rules’ to enhance transparency
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has announced a final rule designed to enhance transparency in how the Department of Transportation issues rules and guidance documents, as well as strengthen the process for DOT enforcement actions.
“This ‘rule on rules’ is an example of the type of good government embraced by this administration,” Chao said. “The rule’s major components include permanently incorporating the Trump administration’s regulatory reform policies on budgeting, and the Regulatory Reform Task Force.”
The final rule also codifies procedures for issuance of the DOT’s most costly rules, clarifies that guidance documents do not impose legal obligations, and ensures due-process protections for potential subjects of enforcement actions, Chao said.
Seaway sets new transit restrictions
St. Lawrence Seaway officials on Dec. 10 announced new restrictions for high-flow conditions that vessel operators are to observe until further notice.
Tall ships and tows (tug and barge) transiting the Montreal-Lake Ontario Section must be capable of making a minimum of 8 knots. Officials also said that no transits of dead-ship tows will be permitted, and that ships unable to transit safely at high flows may be subject to additional restrictions.
GAO says Corps’ project analyses ‘not always transparent’
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a recent report that while the Army Corps of Engineers “followed many best practices,” its analyses of potential costs and benefits of flood risk management projects “were not always transparent.”
“For example, only one (of eight studies reviewed) considered the limitations of the computer model used in a flood damage analysis,” the GAO said. “Without that information, reviewers can’t make the best decisions on which projects would be most beneficial.”
The GAO recommended that the Corps “strengthen its feasibility study review process by including steps to ensure consistency with transparency best practices.” The GAO added that the Corps “concurred with the recommendation.”
Government funding extended through Dec. 20
Congress approved a continuing resolution (CR) last month that avoided a government shutdown and extended federal funding through Dec. 20.
With the CR in place, the Army Corps of Engineers receives the lowest funding amount in the administration’s budget request ($4.8 billion) until Congress passes legislation that provides increased funding.
In September, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill (S. 2970) that funded the Corps, following passage of a similar version in the House (H.R. 2960). The bill then headed to the Senate floor for final action and to conference with the House on its measure, but on Sept. 18, Senate Democrats blocked the bill and several others. Republicans needed at least 60 votes to take up the spending measures, and the motion to proceed fell short by nine votes.