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Dredging safety anecdotes; Working toward waterways funding

March 1 marks my 30th year reporting for the dredging industry. In my early years, I was in the habit of describing the wonders of the dredging industry to just about everyone. One person sent a little note (when people still wrote notes on paper) saying that he had enjoyed the meeting, especially my description of how dredging affects all our lives. I have always held on to the hope that he was not being facetious.

I learned early the dangers involved in the industry, both by experience and by listening to people talk on dredging projects. My first camera had a dent in the lens housing, put there when a revolving crane hit it. My hard hat went overboard from a crew boat while I was focusing my camera, pointing up how easily a person could fall over. Just trying to retrieve the hard hat presented a danger, as we leaned over trying to snag the hat with a pole.

A dredge superintendent told me that after I had left a dredge one day, a crane operator had missed the deck when lowering a bucket, hitting and capsizing a boat full of crew members. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

A project engineer told me that a piece of metal had fallen from the top of a crane boom and hit a worker on the head, killing him, the force of the blow turning his hard hat inside out.

On all of these projects, everyone was obeying the rules, wearing their protection gear, following procedure. Something more was needed to make working on dredges safe.

I’m happy to report in this month’s Dredging Safety feature that a new philosophy is taking hold and bringing the dredging industry into a better, safer era. The oil industry, another dangerous environment, is having tremendous success with this program, (and hundreds of thousands of accident-free hours.) Two large U.S. dredging companies have put this philosophy into effect, and others will probably follow. This is good news for all of us.

People who work in the U.S. navigable waterways are looking at another fight for funding this year. See the National Waterways Conference summary of the president’s proposed civil works budget on page 18.

The American Association of Port Authorities is decrying the underfunding of both port security and channel maintenance in the president’s proposed budget. In a news release on February 5, the AAPA stated, “In its proposed fiscal 2008 budget, the Bush Administration recommends the Department of Homeland Security’s Port Security Grant program—the only federal program that assists public ports to fund marine facility security improvements—receive $210 million in congressional appropriations. This is the largest amount the president has ever recommended as a line item for this program and it is equal to what congress appropriated in fiscal 2007. Still, it is in stark contrast to action taken last fall when congress approved and the president signed into law the SAFE Port Act of 2006, authorizing $400 million a year in Port Security Grant program appropriations—the level that AAPA recommended.”

The NWC Legislative Summit on March 19 to 21 will give attendees specific information on the budgeting process and on the financial needs of the ports and waterways, with an afternoon set aside to visit legislators in their offices. If you’ve never walked around in the senate and house office buildings and visited your legislators in their offices, you should not miss this. I hope to see a lot of dredging people there.

Judith Powers, Editor

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