Giving waterways their due

I was doing some research the other day that took me to the website of the Congressional subcommittee that oversees maritime transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard. These are the folks that write bills that authorize programs and funding for the Coast Guard, oversee programs involving navigation and ports, and help mariners resolve problems with credentialing, among many other responsibilities.

Posted on the subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation’s website is a video set to soothing guitar music that explains the importance of the maritime industry to the economy (more than 260,000 people employed and more than 40,000 commercial vessels flying the U.S. flag), and the need to support the Coast Guard and the U.S. flag fleet. Subcommittee members took turns in outlining the Coast Guard’s many roles, from search-and-rescue and drug interdiction to homeland security.

Interestingly, there was no direct mention of the Coast Guard’s role in overseeing vessel traffic and maintaining navigational aids on U.S. waterways. This certainly was not an intentional oversight, as the committee is well aware of this responsibility and has held hearings on the subject.

In fact, at a subcommittee hearing in July on federal navigational planning, witness Karen L. Van, director of Positioning, Navigation and Timing at the Department of Transportation, pointed out to lawmakers one aspect of the service’s important role in this area: “The USCG exercises a certain amount of control over the waterways, under the authority vested in the Captain of the Port, and may close waterways or restrict marine activity during adverse conditions or special operations.”

That authority is a big deal to vessels that work the waterways.

The video for another House panel that oversees waterways funding and policy is far more outspoken on waterways promotion.

The Water Resources and Environment subcommittee video notes the essential contribution that “waterways, ports and dams and other supporting infrastructure” make to the national economy and job growth. The video also cites the key role this infrastructure plays in flood protection.

Debra Colbert, senior vice president of the Waterways Council Inc., praised the narrative, saying “it gives a pretty big shout-out to our interests in terms of jobs and economy and national importance.”

But it doesn’t mention the poor state of this infrastructure and the need to make steady and strong federal investments to modernize the aging network of locks and dams to keep them working reliably into the future. Congress made a significant step more than a year ago to rectify the problem with passage of Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), and surprisingly members didn’t give themselves a pat on the back for that one.

About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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