Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘NOAA’

The Mineta Speech as a Starting Point

In Federal Government, MTS Policy, Surface Transportation Policy on March 30, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Former Secretary Norman Mineta provided a service in making his 2007 speech on the maritime sector (excerpts found starting here).  Since he went to the trouble, let’s use his suggestions as a starting point for an overdue discussion on rethinking and recharging US maritime policy.

Secretary Mineta called for moving maritime related functions of other agencies to the  Maritime Administration and renaming the agency according to the “Federal [ ] Administration” template used for the other modes.  There are 18 or so departments and agencies with program interest in marine transportation including USDA, NOAA, EPA and the Navy.  Reason enough to create an interagency Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS).  Perhaps some functions could be consolidated in USDOT.  Others not so easily.  The navigation portion of the USACE civil works program, one that often is mentioned as a prospect, may not transfer well.  Not that the status quo is worth maintaining.  The excruciatingly-slow project evaluation and preparation process has ports pulling out their metaphorical hair.  But it’s not simply a Corps of Engineers process failing but one that Congress abets by being very unreliable in implementing the key stages of project authorization and funding.   The channel program is ripe for change.  But it is not a given that USDOT is the best place for it.  For that matter, program consolidation can cause problems as much as fix others.

The former Secretary suggests that MARAD must shift its focus to the condition of the nation’s ports and away from its long attention to “ships and crews.”  Actually that shift started during the Clinton Administration under Secretary Federico Pena.  He gave attention to port issues (including the dredging process) and MARAD has done all it can to grow its portfolio in this direction.  The agency has functioned as project manager for federally funded port projects in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and elsewhere. (Mostly with DOD money.)  The 111th Congress authorized MARAD to manage such “port infrastructure projects”as money is made available.

I disagree with Mr. Mineta that there is too much focus on ships.  As long as there is a US flag requirement (see Jones Act), a diminishing shipyard industry and capability, and a US merchant fleet that is a shadow of its former self someone should pay it attention.  Clearly current law and policy isn’t getting the job done.  For that matter, I can’t recall a modern administration of either party that has cared much about cargo moving on US flag vessels.  (No, I won’t go back as far as Roosevelt.)

The suggestion also is made to rename the US Merchant Marine Academy and “give it our time and attention.” Reports issued during the Bush and Obama administrations, including one called “Red Sky in the Morning,” made clear that oversight and investment had been lacking at King’s Point.  So a turnaround effort continues today with Kings Point being .  But let’s face it.  Why bother making it a top notch maritime academy if the effort isn’t being made to grow the anemic maritime sector?  It would be nice if the young men and women who want a career in the merchant marine can actually find good paying jobs there.

Secretary Mineta suggested that if “ports and waterways funding is always being relegated to parts of the surface transportation bill, or the defense bill, they will remain second-class subjects…” He is saying that the sector needs, in effect, a SEA-21 much as there were TEA-21 and AIR-21—the highway and aviation authorization bills of the 1990s.  A dedicated maritime bill to advance maritime policy and related projects.  I think a maritime bill is in order, especially for addressing failings of current policy and the paucity of programs tuned to today.  But as long as Washington continues to think in terms of modal stovepipes the marine stovepipe will remain offshore and remote from the “surface” modes, system development and corridor planning where intermodal policy, transportation solutions, and major projects tend to be reserved for road and rail.

Marine transportation related provisions belong in an intermodal, multimodal surface–wet and dry surface, if you will–transportation  bill.

More on this subject to come.  Comments welcome.   Pbea

The Mineta Speech, Pt.2

In Federal Government, Infrastructure, MTS Policy on February 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm

This is the second installment of a speech by former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who pointed to some ways that U.S. maritime policy was lacking.  While by no means a comprehensive critique of a policy and sector in need, his remarks were a high altitude flare signaling something needs attention. The first of three installments are here. The speech didn’t garner much attention at the time.  It is worth going back to take a look.

Norman Mineta was Secretary of Transportation when the Bush White House in late 2004 released the Administration’s U.S. Ocean Action Plan.  The Plan was a response to the recommendations made by the blue ribbon U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.  The Plan included a presidential directive to elevate an existing inter-agency coordinating panel to be the cabinet-level Committee on the Marine Transportation System or CMTS.  USDOT was made one of the coordinating entities–the others being NOAA, USACE, and USCG–in the 18 agency CMTS.

During Mineta’s tenure and that of his successor, Mary Peters, the DOT Secretary’s Office evidenced more interest in a functioning, productive Committee on the Marine Transportation System than did the department’s own marine transportation agency.  To a certain extent it was understandable.  MARAD generally played second maritime fiddle to the Coast Guard when that uniformed service was under USDOT.  Now, with the Coasties out of USDOT and under the newly created Department of Homeland Security, MARAD leadership had little interest in sharing a coordinating role with other agencies since MARAD considered itself the U.S. maritime agency.

One even heard that Secretary Mineta made an attempt to gain program control over the construction and maintenance of navigation channel infrastructure, long the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers.  After all, the Department of Transportation had jurisdiction over other modal infrastructure and USACE had its share of critics.  I don’t know if any serious attempt was made then but, obviously, nothing ever came of it.  Not surprising.  Washington turf  comes in an especially change-resistant variety.  Nevertheless it remained a policy objective, as you will see.

The dispersal of marine transportation related matters among a dozen-and-a-half government agencies was just one of the conditions the former secretary pointed to 2007.  The Mineta Speech continues…

“Now, what about our national maritime policy?  Frankly, it is comparatively meager and unfocused.  Jurisdictions are scattered throughout the government.  One agency advocates for maritime trade, another oversees aids to navigation.  Another helps build and maintain ports and waterways, another regulates shipping, and another oversees security.

“With respect to congressional funding, surface transportation and aviation each have  major reauthorization bills with billions of dollars budgeted for projects, while maritime funding is scattered, uncoordinated, and subject to diversions for other purposes.

“Some of this is a result of history.  Our aviation system was essentially created by the federal government at the birth of commercial aviation prior to World War II.  And the federal government’s role in our national road system was guaranteed by the postwar vision of President Eisenhower who had witnessed the benefits of the German autobahn.

“But America was a collection of ports before it ever was a nation.  Most Americans became Americans by transiting on ships.  And the long history from colonies, territories and states with their own ports has created a tangled network of jurisdictions and authorities.

“Let me quickly add that I am not advocating for a central maritime system.  We only need to look at the knot of federal environmental laws and custom regulations to see how the federal government can inhibit the process with good intentions poorly implemented.

“However, in the increasing globalized economy; in a just-in-time-freight logistics system; in unprecedented energy challenges; and in ports that are at risk of becoming outdated; the Federal government must respond – and its response must be more than opening its checkbook.  And the private industry must do more than look for low hanging investment fruit opportunities.

“What is the path to victory?”

The text continues in the next post: The Mineta Speech, Pt.3.   Pbea

 

Mapping the “Hidden Highway”

In Infrastructure, Marine Highway, New York Harbor on November 13, 2009 at 8:04 pm
NOS

Click for Audio

When someone talks about “keeping ships from turning into shipwrecks” we all probably could agree that’s a worthwhile use of tax dollars.

The fellow whose job it has been to map the coastal waters where ships ply the “hidden highway” is Captain Steve Barnum, who retired this year NOAA after 29 years.  He most recently headed NOAA’s Coast Survey, part of the National Ocean Service (NOS).

If you click the image above, you’ll hear him talk about the valuable service provided by the folks at NOS:

  • the country has “95,000 linear nautical miles of shoreline…3.4 square nautical miles of underwater territory” half of which was last mapped using “lead line soundings”…
  • mapping of the coastline is “a continual process”…many parts of the coastal regions remain uncharted…some data is as old as the Russian survey from when that country controlled Alaska
  • coastal surveys are also important for national security…military operations need accurate nautical charts…having a baseline makes it easier to reopen waterways after a national emergency
  • the MTS is the “hidden highway”…“hidden transportation system”
  • nautical charts are essential to the growth of the “efficient”  marine highway…making use of the “underutilized waterways” to get trucks off the road

The captain mistakenly refers to the Verrazano Bridge as an impediment for the increasingly larger ships–it’s the Bayonne Bridge, both being in the Port of New York-New Jersey–but he is right to highlight that commercial shipping is no different than other modes in needing adequate infrastructure and mapping.  In the case of  bridges, another NOS navigation system–PORTS–enables ship pilots to know the air draft under bridges in addition to better understanding available channel depth.  It’s just that when the highway is “hidden,” as the water routes are, it doesn’t get the attention–and the resources–that the dryways get.   Pbea

Walking the Dock and Talking the Talk

In Federal Government on August 16, 2009 at 9:19 pm

CMTS group

This week Federal agency folks caught the bus to Baltimore to see a port.   It was organized by Helen Brohl and staff of  the Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS) and facilitated by Frank Hamons and colleagues of the Maryland Port Administration.  The civil servants from NTSB, ITA, OMB, MARAD, NOAA, USACE, USCG, EPA and  perhaps other offices and agencies left Washington to see elments of the MTS first hand.

Terminal operations, a NOAA survey vessel, a Ready Reserve Force ship, an intermodal yard, and a tugboat tour of the cargo and quiche sides of the waterfront.   They met with public and private sector people who keep the working port working.

From time to time one reads complaints about taxpayer money spent on public employee field trips and conference-going…as if it’s always a pleasure jaunt and never of professional value.  I’m sure that this same-day hop, just an hour up the parkway, will spark no such carping.  But that’s beside the point.  It’s a fact that trips like this one  to  the Maryland port instill more understanding than does the reading of a report.  Even one with lots of pictures.   When one is in the field the senses absorb.  The mind muses.   The discussion flows.

Washington is paying much more attention than ever to ports, shipping, and our system of logistics.   EPA regulates ballast water.   The Corps maintains channels.  TSA checks dock worker backgrounds.  NOAA decides when the dredges can work.  OSHA sets new container lift standards.   The Senate ratifies standards to lower ship emissions.  CBP scans cargo for radiation.   OMB reviews regs and budgets.  Fees are collected and new fee proposals abound.

Taking one day to take in the context for all of the above is a day and money well spent.  Kudos to CMTS and the folks in the picture.   Pbea

PORTS: Real-Time Data in Action

In Federal Government on August 9, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Want to see a government program at work?  Want some evidence you’re getting your money’s worth from your government?  Does catastrophe avoidance count?

NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System–or PORTS–is one of the success stories that 99.9 percent of citizens don’t hear about.   It’s a small piece of the National Ocean Service navigation services program (coastal surveying, charts, etc.).   The 18 or so PORTS installations in place so far provide commercial and government mariners, in addition to state coastal agencies and academicians, real-time tide and current data.  This is vital information, of course, but the shift from the traditional printed tide tables to accurate information from in-place sensors enables a great leap in navigation safety and  resource knowledge.  Where PORTS sensors are installed the mariner can have greater confidence in the channel ahead.  PORTS also enables crews to make air draft calculations to determine if conditions are favorable  to clear the underside of a bridge.  Whether it’s the USS New York approaching Huey P. Long Bridge or a containership facing the Bayonne Bridge on its way to Port Elizabeth  that’s a big dollar calculation.

NOS pulled together a successful pilot project in Tampa.  Among other things the technology was a means to predict oil spill behavior–a big deal in deciding spill response action.  But PORTS was getting scant or no attention in the President’s annual budget until a port/industry group knocked on the door of  the Deputy Secretary of Commerce.  They told him there was a gem buried deep in the department, starving for money and capable of saving hundreds of millions in marine accidents.

Subsequent budgets have included the bare $3mn needed to keep the system operating at HQ.  With some effort and contributions by port stakeholders, new locations slowly were connected to the system.  It wasn’t until Katrina and Rita had their way with the Gulf Coast that some Senators understood the predictive value of PORTS for a vulnerable coastline.  First realization, then a burst of funding for 4 new Gulf installations.

PORTS is a national program that remains underfunded.   Sure, there are a dozen or so port locations added since the early pilots.  But sensor installations are not uniformly the responsibility of NOAA and annual O&M funding can resemble a game of chicken when there is no firm local arrangement for funds.

This is a proven technology and system.  But without a clear Federal commitment to complete and maintain installations around the country it remains that gem lacking adequate support from the Commerce Department and Congress.

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