AIWA Members Examine Funding for Dredging and Placement Sites; Warn of Fatalities if Channel is Not Maintained

The waterway extends from Norfolk Virginia to the Florida Keys and includes scores of shoaling areas that are a hazard to navigation.

Approximately 75 users and stakeholders in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway assembled in Savannah Georgia last November for the 10th anniversary meeting of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA).

The group was formed in 1999 to address the neglect of the waterway which is intended to provide a 1200-mile-long protected inland shipping channel from Norfolk Virginia to Miami Florida. Starting with 22 members the AIWA now is 250 strong and awareness of the value of the waterway has been increased to the point where legislators are beginning to emphasize funding the waterway as a priority.

Keynote speaker Brig. Gen. Todd Semonite told the group that in a climate where every special interest is concerned only about its own interest the AIWW is centered around many interests giving the group “true credibility”.
BG Semonite is the commander of the Corps South Atlantic Division.

Regarding the Corps mission he said that “it would be great to prioritize recreation” a concept that was echoed several times during the conference as recreational boating is a multi-billion dollar industry on the East Coast. We need to make sure the priority is where we think it should go he said. The criterion for funding shallow draft dredging – based on ton-miles – ought to be “dollar miles” instead he said.

He told the group that the five districts along the waterway – Norfolk Wilmington Charleston Savannah and Jacksonville – could team together more effectively to apply the budget in the most important place.

“We get five bags of money” he said and it’s a challenge to put the money where it is needed in the waterway. The AIWW should be funded as a system and he urged the association to keep pushing for that.

A panel on Corps Activities in the waterway was moderated by Col. Edward Kertis Savannah District Commander. On the panel were Roger Bullock operations manager for the AIWW in the Wilmington District; Brian Wells project manager for the Charleston District; Roger Lafond operations manager for the AIWW in the Savannah District; and Shelley Trulock project manager for the AIWW for the Jacksonville District.

Each speaker gave details of troubled areas in the channel in his district along with controlling depths and prospects of getting the areas dredged. They also discussed dredged material placement sites and communications with marina owners and other ventures located along the waterway.

In the session “Navigation Challenges for Waterway Users” Thomas Murray of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences moderated. On the panel were Charlie Waller president of the Georgia Marine Business Association and owner of the Isle of Hope Marina; Bos Smith owner of Steven’s Towing on Yonges Island South Carolina; and Chuck May of the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition with 57 member harbors that represent 1.5 million citizens that use and benefit from the harbors.

Waller described how boats are bypassing the Georgia ICW because of poor conditions and perceived poor conditions. He described some problem shoaling areas and said that the stimulus funding is allowing some of these to be dredged but that some areas won’t be dredged because of lack of an environmentally sound placement area. He expressed hope that the FY 2010 budged will allow a study to economically dredge the areas he referred to as “800-pound gorillas.”

Bos Smith’s company Stevens Towing has been active since 1910 and has operated from Norfolk to Miami. They move finished steel scrap steel coal wood chips and high-end transformers rotors turbines and heavy power generating equipment that railroads and roads cannot move he said. Everyone is designing heavier and bigger equipment – such as a 730-ton steam generator – which the railroads don’t want to move leaving only the waterways to transport it.

As a result the largest power generating plants are locating in the Southeast because there is water – they are looking for barge-accessible locations said Smith.

Because of the unreliability of the depths in the AIWW his company is looking to invest in vessels that are rated for ocean travel he said. These boats cost at least three times what a vessel rated for the Intracoastal Waterway costs.

The Intracoastal Waterway is the safest way for boats and the ocean is unforgiving he said. There will be fatalities if traffic is routed into the ocean. The question has been raised as to how much should be spent on dredging but the real question is how much will it cost if we don’t dredge?

We need a dedicated funding source for maintaining the waterway Smith concluded.

Chuck May said that the generic issues on the Great Lakes are the same as on the AIWA but in different degrees. His group represents the needs and interests of Great Lakes communities with commercial and small harbors.

Recreation and shallow draft harbors and waterways get no budget; they are add-ons he said. Even though commercial harbors are budgeted ships are still light loading before entering the harbors and still going aground.

There are 4.3 million registered boats on the Great Lakes; $2.3 billion per year spent on boat trips; $1.4 billion per year spent on boat purchases.

To dredge the recreational harbors to adequate depths would cost $8 million to $10 million per year he said. Out of a $5.5 billion budget that is three tenths of one percent.
“Is there an economic impact associated with this dredging” he asked. “Yes.”

The organization is a member of RAMP and is working toward the goal of increased funding for their member harbors.
Rosemary Lynch AIWA executive director reported there were $23 million in ARRA funds allocated to the AIWW and thanked “our friends in the Corps who made (the dredging) happen.”

She described the AIWA’s efforts to form an Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Commission which would consist of federal state business and recreational representatives. The commission will address such issues as waterway surveys economic studies a dredged material maintenance plan ensure that the waterway receives adequate annual dredging and ensure the continued access to the waterway for all users.

She reported that members of the AIWA Board of Directors will be in Washington in February to meet with congressional staff members of Congressmen and Senators who represent the districts in the AIWA and to discuss waterway maintenance needs for FY 11.

She said that in October the House of Representatives passed Resolution 465 honoring the AIWA for the 10 years it had supported the waterway.

On Friday November 20 Amy Larson opened the conference with an address on emerging and current national water issues. She has been the president of the National Waterways Conference for a year and a half.

Larson described the organization’s efforts to get a WRDA passed this year and also described the NWC’s involvement in passing the Sustainable Watershed Planning Act which would deal with waterways as part of entire watersheds “to provide for the sustainable use of the nation’s water resources through the coordinated planning of water resources and water infrastructure.”

Key provisions are: to establish state water resource planning grants; establish and authorize pilot regional watershed planning boards; and establish and authorize a new federal office of sustainable watershed management
Lt. Julie Miller stationed in Charleston with the U.S. Coast Guard described plans to replace the Ben Sawyer Bridge on the AIWA linking Mount Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island. The bridge and waterway were closed to all traffic on February 4 and reopened to all traffic on February 17.
Jim Walker Navigation Program manager for the Corps of Engineers described the Corps’ Low Use Navigation Pilot Program in which alternative means of funding maintenance dredging in channels that bear less than a million ton-miles per year are being sought.

There are more than 800 navigation projects authorized constructed and eligible for maintenance dredging funds said Walker. However because of the policy of using ton-miles to judge if a channel should receive funds only 160 projects are receiving federal funding for maintenance dredging.

The Corps recognizes that almost all the authorized projects are of benefit and the FY 2010 budget includes a $1.5 million pilot project in the O&M account to develop and encourage alternate non-traditional ways to fund maintenance of low commercial use harbors and waterways.

The pilot project would focus on the Atlantic Coast and Chesapeake Bay in the North Atlantic and South Atlantic Divisions of the Corps and identify the universe of federal harbors and inland waterway segments that support lower levels of commercial use and their respective non-Federal sponsors. The project will also formulate and evaluate long-term options for the funding and management of such facilities.

John Adams of Taylor Engineering moderated a panel on Dredged Material Management and the Environment which included himself Brad Gane of the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia DNR and Col. Edward Kertis Commander of the Savannah District Corps of Engineers.
The goal is to “assist the Corps to come up with a plan for dredging the ICWW and Taylor Engineering is on board to look at the plan: where the sites will be; how much material will they hold; what type of material will be placed; and formulate a 20-year storage plan” said Adams.

They will go to Congress with the report and say “this is what we need to keep the waterway maintained” he said.

Brad Gane described individual problem locations in the 161 miles of the AIWW in Georgia.

“The Georgia DNR has worked for decades with the Corps to find management solutions to these problem areas” he said. Some sediments such as plough mud are too fine for traditional dredging and disposal methods and he suggested new studies for handling fine-grained sediment.

Col. Kertis said that environmental consciousness was in some cases having a negative effect by stopping all development.

“We have to find common ground” he said. He told of a small marina operator who wanted to expand his floating docks but the $1.5 million cost for filing for the permits discouraged him from making the improvement.

When environmental groups sue the government and win – you still have to pay he said. The Corps had to pay $200000 to the National Wildlife Federation when they lost a lawsuit.

The final session was on “Economic Impacts of the Waterway on Business Community and Tourism.” Ryck Lydecker editor of BoatUS moderated the panel consisting of Rose Wilson of Morningstar Marinas; Susan Thomas of the Southeast Tourism Society and Troup Nightingale of TowBoatUS.
Rose Wilson said that her marina is on the Frederica River in South Georgia. Their volume of guests is down 25 percent she said.

When the economy is down what happens is we cut back on “toys and joys – including boats” she said. In addition to that when a boater has run hard aground and perhaps been injured he or she can get scared enough to want to sell their boats.

“We want to be on the team and help find solutions” she said. When there isn’t a reliable channel depth people will run outside in the ocean and bypass Georgia entirely she said.

Boaters spend money on dockage electricity fuel restaurants grocery stores walk-in clinics drug stores and post offices.

“They are there to spend money” she said.
She estimated that her marina had sold 2100000 gallons of gasoline in 20 years which adds up to $323000 in sales tax to the state of Georgia.

Susan Thomas lives on Hilton Head Island and is vice chairman of the Southeast Tourism Society which has 2000 member organizations.

In 2008 the economic impact of tourism was 7.7 percent ($17 billion) in South Carolina and 9.1 percent in the U.S. she said. A key feature that tourists wish to experience is water she said and this is one of the areas her organization would like to develop.

Troup Nightingale operates vessels for TowBoatUS rescuing stranded boaters and pulling grounded boats to deep water. His talk included photos of vessels that he has been called to help – most are high and dry on shoals that were not on the charts or the channel was not marked or most dangerously in the open ocean where they didn’t realize there was a sand bar and became stranded and at the mercy of the open sea.

All the offshore grounded vessels were trying to bypass the shallow ICW he said. Many boaters curtail their trips and spending after a hard grounding he said and some decide not to retire to Georgia.

Two of the worst spots are Jekyll Creek and Little Mud River he said which couldn’t be dredged when ARRA funds became available because there are no placement sites.
Georgia is spending $8 million to create two new parks which the DNR doesn’t have the funds to operate he said.
“How smart is this? The same money could solve all of Georgia’s ICW problems for some time to come. The Corps agencies and DNR must work out their disposal issue. If they don’t lives are going to be lost” he said.

The 2010 AIWA conference will be held on November 18 and 19 at the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel Portsmouth Virginia.