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Agencies Seek to Eliminate DGPS Beacon System

Symbols in red depict the 62 beacons planned for shutdown. Beacons to be retained are illustrated along with their transmission ranges in the coastal areas of the U.S.

Symbols in red depict the 62 beacons planned for shutdown. Beacons to be retained are illustrated along with their transmission ranges in the coastal areas of the U.S.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers posted a notice on August 18 in the Federal Register, describing their intention to deactivate most of the Nationwide Global Positioning System (NDGPS) on January 15, 2016.

The entire system of 62 beacons serving the interior of the U.S. will be shut down. These beacons serve mariners on the inland river system, including the towing industry, marine construction and dredging, inland waterway ports, and inland navigation aids. In addition, the system serves the land surveying, GIS, construction and agriculture industries. The railroad industry has sponsored aspects of the system in the past.

If the system on the rivers is shut down, mariners will need to purchase their own personal base station and radio station, which will not be integrity monitored nor tied to the NGS National Spatial Reference System, causing another layer of possible position error. Another option would be to purchase an annual subscription to a service that provides corrections, which might not be integrity monitored, would involve extra costs if existing equipment doesn’t interface with the service, and will likely use a non-maritime standard.

The agencies propose leaving 22 sites available in coastal areas only.

Public comments on the shutdown and decommissioning of the sites are due by November 16, 2015.

The notice was signed by Gary Rasicot, director of marine transportation systems, U.S. Coast Guard; Gregory D. Winfree, assistant secretary for research and technology, U.S. Department of Transportation; and Robert A. Bank, chief, Civil Works Branch of Engineering and Construction, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Among the navigation beacons proposed for deactivation on the Mississippi River and tributaries are: Upper Keweenaw, WI; Wisconsin Point, WI; St. Paul (Alma), MN; Sturgeon Bay, WI; Mequon, MI; Cheboygan, MI; Saginaw Bay, MI; Rock Island, IA (run by the COE); St Louis, MO (COE); Bobo, MS; Louisville, KY (COE); Millers Ferry, AL (COE); Sallisaw, OK; and Youngstown, NY.

Other maritime locations to be shut down are:

Appleton, WA; Biorka, AK; Brunswick, ME; Cape Hinchinbrook, AK; Cold Bay, AK; Driver, VA; Eglin, FL; Gustavus, AK; Iasbla, PR; Key West, FL; Kodiak, AK; Kokile Point, HI; Level Island, AK; Lompoc, CA; New Bern, NC; Penobscot, ME; Pigeon Point, CA; Robinson Pt., WA; and Sandy Hook, NJ.

“Sandy Hook is the primary inbound shipping station for the Port of New York and New Jersey,” said Lou Nash, president of Measutronics, a major supplier of GPS systems to the marine industry. Since learning of the proposed shutdown, Nash has spent several days contacting users of the beacons that serve inland shipping.

“All were surprised about the announcement and feel they will be affected by the shutdown. They want to talk more about it,” said Nash, who is interested in talking to all who depend on this system.

The Federal Register announcement refers to a request for comments issued in 2013, where comments were received to aid in analyzing the continuing need for the NDGPS system. Response was limited, according to the notice, which stated that ‘no respondents reported the discontinuance of DGPS broadcast to be detrimental or harmful. (But) ship pilots in particular noted that DGPS can be critical in confined waterways for precise ship handling maneuvers.”

In describing the decision to shut down the inland system, the notice mentions the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Geodetic Survey (NGS) that supplements their network of Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS), providing data for three-dimensional post-process (not real-time) positioning for use in land surveys, Geographic Information systems (GIS), Land Information Systems (LIS) and environmental management, all of which stat ed that they have alternate systems and equipment and would not be harmed by the loss of the beacons.

The notice does not mention receiving comments from barge and towing companies, hydrographic surveyors, marine construction companies or dredging companies who use the beacons for positioning on the inland waterways, and the Coast Guard has no way of knowing if the system is being used by these industries without input from the users.

The decision to maintain the beacons in coastal areas was based on the comments of some port pilots where, the statement says “marine traffic is most frequent and the need for precise marine navigation is greatest.”

Comments on the plan can be submitted to the DOT by one of four methods: 1. the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations. gov; 2. by fax at 202-493-2251; 3. by mail at Docket Management Facility (M-30), U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590-0001; 4. and by hand delivery at the same address between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Phone number is 202-366-9329. Include the docket number for the notice – DPTOST- 2015-0105. All comments will be posted without change to the www.regulations.gov website and will include any personal information provided.

The Federal Register announcement is at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/08/18/2015-20401/nationwide-differential-global-positioning-system-ndgps. For a map of the 62 beacons planned for shutdown, visit www.dredgemag.com.

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