Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Passes Government Funding Stopgap Measure

Washington, D.C.—The House easily approved a stopgap measure to continue funding the federal government through December 11 and extend surface transportation and national flood insurance programs for a full year after an agreement was reached on aid to farmers.

Passed by a 359–57 vote, H.R. 8337 went to the Senate, where action on the continuing resolution (CR) was expected before September 30, when the current funding expires.

Leaders of both parties on both sides of the Capitol and White House officials made it clear they wanted to avoid a government shutdown right before a national election.

In addition to replenishing the Commodity Credit Corporation, which provides a safety net for farmers, the House-passed version also includes nutrition assistance for children who normally get lunches at school and extenders on certain health programs.

In a joint statement, the chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said the one-year extension of surface transportation programs will provide certainty to state and local officials.

Other provisions in the CR authorize the Coast Guard to pay for work usually funded by fees now lost during the pandemic, extend authorization of the Great Lakes Pilotage Advisory Committee and provide flexibility on deadlines for certain BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grants.

Noting the stalled negotiations over another coronavirus relief package, the National Waterways Council said the CR was the only “major” bill expected to pass Congress before lawmakers break for the election.

That statement came out before the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which sparked both a national week of mourning as well as a bitter partisan debate over when her successor should be nominated and confirmed.

Streamlining MMC Process

Still experiencing increased processing times for Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC), the National Maritime Center (NMC) provided a list of “important things” applicants can do to streamline the process.

They include submitting MMC applications electronically in a PDF format; using Pay.gov to pay fees; including a scanned copy of payment receipts with the application; ensuring all necessary documentation—such as course completion certificates, drug tests and sea service forms—is included to avoid being among the approximately 50 percent of applications with missing documents; and submitting applications once requirements are met, with applications accepted up to eight months prior to MMC expiration.

Applications are processed on a ‘first in, first out’ basis, the NMC stated, adding expediting cases will be considered when an employer verifies it is critical to operations or an applicant’s employment.

To request expedited service, contact the Customer Service Center at 1-888-IASKNMC (427- 5662).

Flood Information System

A key Senate committee advanced a bill to establish a national integrated flood information system to strengthen the ability of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to forecast floods, hurricanes and tornadoes and disperse relevant information to officials and first responders.

Introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), S. 4462, the Flood Level Observation, Operations and Decision Support (FLOODS) Act was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee by a voice vote.

Wicker serves as chairman of that panel.

Mariner COVID-19 Testing

The American Waterways Operators (AWO) commended a bipartisan group of 14 members of Congress for urging federal agencies to prioritize COVID-19 testing for mariners and other critical infrastructure workers.

In a September 10 letter posted by AWO, the lawmakers asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security to make the testing a voluntary part of the existing pre-screening process prior to boarding a vessel.

Their letter explained such a change would group mariners and other critical infrastructure workers alongside healthcare facility workers and first responders in getting precedence in testing.

“Keeping the virus off commercial vessels remains of paramount importance to both the health and safety of vessel crewmembers and the resilience of the domestic maritime supply chain,” the letter stated.

Cruise Industry

Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola released an interim report highlighting economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Florida port authorities and cities as well as passenger cruise lines.

“The interviews I have conducted with port directors, government officials and business leaders all confirm the importance of the cruise industry to Florida’s economy and the urgent need for ships to start sailing again,” Sola said after releasing the latest Fact Finding 30 report.

Covering ports from Key West to Jacksonville and on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, his report also includes specific steps each port is taking to resume operations.

Fact Finding 30 continues and is expected to focus on Alaska and the Northwest United States.

More RECs Reopen

The National Maritime Center (NMC) announced the reopening of Regional Examination Centers (RECs) in Anchorage, Baltimore, Oakland, Portland and St. Louis beginning September 28.

With the exception of Monitoring Unit (MU) Guam, NMC added, all RECs and MUs are open for limited services.

Those include RECs previously reopened in Boston, Charleston, Honolulu, Houston, Juneau, Long Beach, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Seattle and Toledo as well as MUs in Ketchikan and San Juan.

Mariners should contact these locations directly to schedule examinations, the NMC stated, adding walk-in appointments remain unavailable.

Azcon/Howards Bay

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced work will begin on addressing contaminated sediment at Azcon Slip in Duluth, Minn., and Howards Bay in Superior, Wis.

Funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, both projects are a collaboration between EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will complete the actual construction work, and non-federal partners.

The Azcon/Duluth Seaway Port Authority Slip is an active 6.5-acre shipping slip located in the Duluth-Superior harbor.

With $1.5 million from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the project’s total cost was put at $4.5 million.

Located in the Wisconsin portion of the St. Louis River Area of Concern, Howards Bay has been the location of multiple shipyards, commercial shipping activity and other industry since the early 1800s.

Dredging has been restricted due to the contaminated sediment, EPA stated, making it difficult for large vessels to access the shipyards.

With $6.5 million coming from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Fraser Shipyards and the city of Superior, the project’s total cost was put at $18 million.

Illegal Fishing

The Coast Guard released its new plan to protect global maritime security by combating the “scourge” of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Called the IUU Fishing Strategic Outlook, the plan covers dishonest activities on both the high seas and those areas within national  jurisdiction.

Admiral Karl Schultz, Coast Guard commandant, said the plan outlines the service’s efforts to combat the scourge of IUU fishing over the next decade.

“As a recognized world leader in maritime safety, security and environmental stewardship, the Coast Guard has a responsibility to help build a collation of partners wiling to identify and address IUU fishing bad actors and model responsible global maritime behavior,” Schultz said.

For more than 150 years, the Coast Guard has been the lead agency for at-sea enforcement of living marine resource laws.

Additional information can be found at www.uscg.mil/IUUfishing/.