A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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January 2017 
The future of Navigation?

     The Upper Mississippi is closed for the season, but UMWA members will soon begin watching the Corps of Engineers weekly measurements of ice on Lake Pepin to get some idea of when the 2017 navigation season will open.  The COE usually starts the measurements in mid-February.
     But there is plenty to watch elsewhere on the inland waterways, both good and bad. For example, the New Cumberland Locks and Dam on the Ohio was forced to operate at reduced capacity with a helper boat opening and closing gates after a hydraulic failure forced a week-long closure in December.        
     Although it is one of the ‘newer’ locks in the country (opened in 1959), it is need of major rehabilitation.  Its auxiliary lock is closed permanently. On Sunday January 14, there were 14 up- and down-bound vessels in the lock que with an average transit time of 64 minutes.
     But also on the Ohio River, the US Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers is testing what Coast Guard public affairs calls, “the future of navigation.”
     The Ohio River Enhanced Marine Safety Information (e-MSI) test bed is placed at Louisville, Kentucky, because of its position on the Ohio River. 
     The COE’s Research and Development Center is working with the Coast Guard’s Office of Navigation Systems and Coast Guard Research and Development Center on the system which uses the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to send messages to tows giving safety and other information about the Ohio River locks in the area. 
     The graphically presented information includes weather, bridge clearance, hazardous cargoes on the river,  safety and security zones, the status of the locks and also Aids to Navigation.
     The Coast Guard says the test area is helping show what equipment and infrastructure will be needed to modernize the country’s inland waterways.
     A 25-foot response boat, also part of the project, patrols the river.
(Above) This Coast Guard graphic shows a commercial Electronic Chart System (ECS) that displays both electronic Aids to Navigation (eATON) and enhanced Marine Safety Information (eMSI) being broadcast around Olmsted Lock on the Ohio. The blue diamonds are eATONs that assist the mariner in navigating around the lock. The Yellow dots are eMSI, which provide pieces of information to help situational awareness.

From the Executive Director . . .

Pop culture versus reality 
     As we write this column, news wise we seem to be sandwiched between the recent Golden Globe Awards and the upcoming inauguration of our nation's 45th president. From that limited perspective, the only things we know for certain are that Hollywood went ape over La La Land, and that designer gowns covered more floor space than the Oscar nominees who wore them.
     Fortunately, information beyond our pop culture reflects the detailed contents of such dry and mundane issues as the WIIN Act and other issues of interest to the navigation industry; and while not as jazzy as its pop cousins, those issues make possible the economic engines without which parallel cultures cannot and would not survive.
     In the view of some, the recently signed WIIN Act (Public Law 114-322) is more encompassing than previous Water Resource Development Acts in that WRDA issues now share the spotlight with non-navigation issues such as safe drinking water, control of coal combustion residuals, and a host of others ranging from Indian dam safety to ground water contamination.
     For example a January 2017 editorial by The Waterways Journal highlighted several relevant issues:
     Section 1106 allows the COE to pay for alternative methods of dredging federal channel projects that are less expensive; using sand pumps instead of dredging, for instance.
Section 1113 allows private interests to dredge a federally maintained channel and be reimbursed later. 
     And Section 1122 directs the COE to set up a pilot program to identify 10 projects to demonstrate beneficial use of dredged material.  Bringing this issue closer to home, the COE’s St. Paul District probably has a box full of underfunded beneficial use projects they could offer.
     Paraphrased, the WJ Editorial sums it up this way:  The WIIN Act adds tools to the port and dredging industry’s toolbox, yet there is a potential concern that the extra cost of such projects might end up being passed on to the Corps’ budget.  While these are all worthy projects, waterway interests might be concerned about the federal navigation program being used as a piggybank to finance non-navigation related projects.
Funding alternatives
     While WIIN’s Sec. 5008 addresses water financing innovations, the legislation is silent about Public-Private Partnership (P3) provisions that could have allowed for the collection of tolls or lockage fees on waterways.  WCI stakeholder resistance, said Mike Toohey, successfully helped to defeat this onerous proposal.  However, as WorkBoat magazine recently suggested, there remains the President-elect's promised trillion dollar transportation infrastructure wild card:  Where will funding come from? 
     Although his plan doesn’t specifically include waterways, rumblings abound about raising much of the money from the private sector with a proposed tax credit offered in return for investments in crumbling infrastructure.  This concept has the support of some barge shippers as it would provide funding by the private sector to update the L&D system with up front funding, sans the stop-start funding currently used by Congress.  On the downside, claims the Center for American Progress, it would push state and local governments to use equity capital that can cost 300% to 500% more than if raise through municipal bonds.
     On the other hand, said WorkBoat, because the plan is vague, it gives the waterway industry and its customers the opportunity to influence the outcome and make sure the plan not only includes waterways, but does so in a way that will not harm the barge industry.
      With hope and trepidation, we look forward to an interesting and promising new year.
Disclaimer:  Thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association or its members. 

Other Items of Interest...

*   Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has sent his infrastructure wish list to the incoming Donald Trump administration and locks and dams are number one on the list.  The Trump transition team asked for a list from all states and Iowa responded with a four page document that puts, “Modernize locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River” at the top.

*  Both Missouri Senators are sponsoring a bill to allow the Delta Queen to resume river cruises.  Sens Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt want an exemption to the Safety of Life at Sea Act prohibiting cruises on wooden vessels.  The Queen has been tied up at various locations since it lost its exemption in 2008.  The Missouri delegation’s bill would require the Queen to modify 10% of the wooden structure of the steamboat each year.  The boat already has a steel hull.

*  Dredged material is a valuable commodity, so much so that Florida decision makers want to import sand from the Bahamas to replenish beaches. A Sun-Sentinel editorial says the Federal Government should lift a prohibition on foreign sand and says a study the government finally agreed to, “Should confirm there are no environmental concerns.”
And in Virginia the Corps of Engineers is getting public input on its proposal to make beneficial use of dredge material offshore at Wachapreague, Va.  The Corps says environmental benefits are the main reason it wants to do the project, but also says it will help protect the town’s shoreline.

*  A Corps of Engineers plan to deepen a stretch of the Lower Mississippi has the potential to create more demand for Midwestern ag products by allowing large neopanamax ships to come upriver to ports such as Plaquemines, La.  Depths would be increased to 50-feet between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and other reaches of the river.
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