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IT'S TIME TO PASS HMTF REFORM

On January 18, Barry Holliday reported that H.R. 104 - the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) bill has 150 co-sponsors, and that industry stakeholders are continuing their information campaign to inform legislators and the public of the crisis facing the country and the economy as a result of not maintaining our shipping channels.

On January 17, news came of the M/V Rondeau went aground in the Mississippi River at Cubits Gap, Mile 3 above Head of Passes, at 7:30 a.m., with an outbound draft of 44 feet. This was in a stretch of the river that is authorized at -45 feet and normally maintained to -51 feet. The vessel was freed by noon, and the New Orleans District was surveying the area, which was in the stretch of river piloted by the Crescent River Pilots (CRPPA), who issued a draft recommendation of 42 feet as a result of the grounding.

This unfortunate incident shines a glaring spotlight on the need for using the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for channel maintenance.

Days before the grounding, the Big River Coalition issued report that stated “a study (by economist Timothy Ryan) on the impact of reduced dredging of channels on the Mississippi River finds that exports could be reduced by 12.4 percent and imports 5.5 percent if channel depths were reduced from 45 to 38 feet.”

Louisiana representatives believe that the recommended draft for transiting the river will be reduced to 38 feet if the spending cuts for maintenance continue, and Ryan estimates that this will require an additional 224 ships to carry the same amount of cargo as a fleet drawing 45 feet.
It is clearly in the interest of all to do whatever it will take to keep these channels maintained, and that means passing the HMTF legislation.

In an update to my last editorial, describing the danger of LightSquared’s proposed satellite communication system that would depend on a dense network of terrestrial receivers (see IDR, November/December 2011, page 5), the discussion appears to have been resolved by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012, signed by President Obama on December 31.

The act includes strict injunctions against interference with any “covered” GPS devices – that is, any devices used by the military. Both versions of the bill included language prohibiting interference with military GPS systems, and in writing the final bill, the conference committee adopted the stricter language contained in both bills.

On its Web site, LightSquared is accusing GPS manufacturers of blocking LightSquared’s effort by managing test results and producing sub-standard products – allegations that are baffling to those in the dredging and surveying industries. Since the inception of GPS, which I have covered in depth, the goal of manufacturers and users has been to create an evolving product that will allow ever more accurate positioning of vessels, vehicles and digging tools. It is the intrinsic danger to the existing system by LightSquared’s proposed system that engendered widespread objection to it. Any other explanation makes no sense.

In October, I visited Peg Johnson in Portland. An expert in government regulations and dredge permitting issues, Peg worked with Ogden Beeman & Associates in the 1980’s, and then with Parsons Brinkerhoff when they purchased the company. Friends and colleagues were concerned to learn that she had suffered a stroke in July, 2010, and I’m happy to report that she is recovering well, and is her old self. We spent a pleasant three hours together in October, and I have high hopes that we’ll see her at WEDA meetings again soon.

Judith Powers

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