Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association To Hold Annual Seminar Next Month In New Orleans

Stakeholders of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) and members of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association (GICA) are getting ready for the group’s annual seminar, set for August 4-6 at the Westin Canal Place in New Orleans.

The event will be GICA’s first in-person seminar since 2019, with the 2020 installment held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s three-day event, which will begin with a golf tournament, board of directors’ meeting and welcome reception August 4, will also mark the official transition from Jim Stark, the association’s outgoing president, to Paul Dittman, the incoming president who came on board earlier this summer.

“I am thrilled to be turning the sticks over to Paul in August, in person, in New Orleans,” Stark said. “He brings great experience and talent to the job—GICA will be in very good hands moving forward. Our transition has gone very well, and I thank the board for bringing him aboard early to give us time for a smooth hand off.

“I’ll certainly miss the day-to-day interaction with members of this wonderful waterways community,” Stark added. “Working with and learning from these experts has been a pleasure and a humbling experience.”

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Dittman said he’s looking forward to building on existing relationships and forging new ones as he officially takes on the role of president at next month’s seminar.

“I am most excited about working hand-in-hand with the members of GICA, many I have known for several years as both colleagues and friends, and further developing my professional understanding of this unique and vital facet of our inland transportation system,” Dittman said. “Taking over on the heels of a rock star like Jim Stark sets the bar high, and this certainly has given me some pause as I try to quickly get up to speed on a myriad of complex waterway issues.”

Seminar Highlights

As in years past, the GICA Seminar will take an in-depth look at many issues important to the waterway and will bring together waterway managers and operators from all along the GIWW. Panel discussions are scheduled for both U.S. Coast Guard commanders from along the GIWW and commanders from the Galveston, New Orleans and Mobile Engineer Districts.

“We hope to meet and get to know some of the new senior leaders at both the USCG sectors and USACE districts, and as always, we view the seminar as an outstanding opportunity to enable all USCG and USACE commanders to dialog directly with our industry,” Dittman said. “USCG discussions will likely focus on operational safety issues affecting our waterways and hurricane response and preparedness, including how our industry may be able to better assist in post-storm channel surveys and assessments. We anticipate the USACE commanders will provide some insight into specific critical infrastructure replacement projects and forecasts, and plans for maintaining the waterway.”

The seminar also has a session set aside to focus on the ways industry and Texas agencies worked together during the February winter storm, which caused fish in the waterway near Laguna Madre to be stunned and vulnerable to passing vessels.

“The severe cold weather event in Texas this winter caused wildlife experts to request GICA to ask its members to voluntarily suspend operations on the canal south of Corpus Christi in the Laguna Madre,” Stark said. “In line with GICA’s commitment to environmental stewardship and showing a great sense of understanding and responsibility for the preservation of fish stocks and sea turtle populations, our members did just that, and likely helped to save a significant number of fish and turtles from cold stunning and drowning. Scientists from Texas A&M Corpus Christi and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will let us know how the process worked this year and what we may all do to improve on it.”

The seminar will also feature an infrastructure funding report and regulatory outlook from representatives from Waterways Council Inc. and The American Waterways Operators. Ed Landgraf from CAMO (Coastal & Marine Operators) will offer a pipeline industry briefing. There will also be an update on operations in and around the Brazos River Floodgates, which have been on frequent restriction due to high flows.

A session will focus on and recognize the impacts women have made and continue to make on the maritime industry.

“Women are assuming significant leadership roles throughout our industry,” Dittman said. “Mary McCarthy, GICA board of directors chair and a vice president at Turn Services in New Orleans, is a prime example. In addition, the GICA board of directors includes Cherrie Felder and Kelly Teichman who serve as at-large director and secretary, respectively, and are also vice presidents at GICA member companies. They will welcome others who are making a difference in our industry to this panel to discuss their challenges, successes and perspective on expanding the role of women throughout our industry.”

The seminar will also feature a wellness panel and presentation by representatives from Seamen’s Church Institute. This panel will recognize the physical and emotional toll that working on towboats has on crew members and seek to equip mariners and company leaders to better meet those needs.

“We hope this session further enhances the association’s members’ understanding of the importance of mariner wellness and perhaps even provides some tools and ideas on how to further enhance their own programs,” Dittman said.

Besides the sought-after towboat operators’ panel, this year’s GICA seminar will also offer a session titled “It’s a Family Affair,” which will feature three industry father-child duos. Panelists will include Z. Dave and Elissa Deloach, Pat and Tim Studdert, and Steve and Austin Golding.

“We hope this panel will provide some hard-won lessons learned and best practices which other family-owned member companies can take into consideration—as well as some entertaining stories,” Dittman said.

Registration is available both online and by mail. There is a special GICA room rate at the Westin through Marriott’s website. Details are available on the GICA website. Attendees interested in the golf tournament should call David Abney, chair of the tournament committee, at 504-736-1284 or send an email to Spouses in attendance will have the chance to visit the New Orleans School of Cooking.