Washington Waves
Washington Waves

MarAd Awards Marine Highway Grants, Touts Port Action Plan

Washington, D.C.—With an unusual shout out from the White House, the Maritime Administration (MarAd) awarded $12.6 million in grants to nine marine highway projects across the country that it said will address supply chain disruptions, enhance the movement of goods along navigable waterways and expand existing waterborne freight services in 11 states.“These investments through the America’s Marine Highways Program will help us move more goods more quickly and more efficiently and help our agricultural exports get goods to market,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the top of her daily briefing.

Psaki added the announcement follows the successful first stop of President Joe Biden’s Port Action Plan, which provided the Port of Savannah $8 million to set up container yards in Georgia and North Carolina.

In a press statement, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg cited “this moment of record demand for goods and shipping” and the Port Action Plan’s role in strengthening supply chains, modernizing port operations and lowering the cost of goods.

MarAd pointed out the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides an additional $25 million to support marine highway projects and to increase the use of the nation’s waterways.

Funding in the new law for the Port Infrastructure Development Program is roughly the same amount that has been invested in port infrastructure in total from all DOT-administered grant programs since federal investments in ports began, MarAd stated.

For more on the grants, see a related article in this issue.

Debt Limit

Acting on a major issue facing a critical deadline in the final days of 2021, Congress voted mostly along party lines to increase the nation’s debt limit by $2.5 trillion.

Approved by tallies of 50–49 in the Senate and 221–209 in the House, where one Republican voted with Democrats, S.J. Res. 33 headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

“The resolution we will vote on will provide for a raising of the debt limit to a level commensurate with funding necessary to get into 2023,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

That should carry the debt limit issue through next year’s mid-term elections.

Despite the lack of support from Senate Republicans, Schumer thanked them for assisting in setting up a “fast-track process” and allowing Democrats to raise the debt limit on a simple majority vote.

“No brinkmanship, no default on the debt, no risk of another recession; responsible governing has won on this exceedingly important issue,” he said.

Congress had no time to spare. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had set December 15 as the deadline for raising the debt limit, and Biden was expected to sign the measure the following day.

Defense Authorization Act  

The Senate overwhelmingly gave final congressional approval to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2022, which includes key maritime provisions.

In addition to funding Maritime Administration programs, the NDAA authorizes $90.5 million for operations and maintenance of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), a 6 percent increase from the current level, stable funding of $50.7 million for support of state maritime academies and $750 million for the Port Infrastructure Development Program.

It also authorizes $318 million, a $4 million hike, for the Maritime Security Program, $10 million for the Maritime Environmental and Technical Assistance program, which is more than a triple increase, and creates an advisory council at the USMMA that will report to the secretary of transportation.

Approved by the Senate by an 88-11 vote after a 363-70 passage in the House, S.1605 was sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

Port Non-Freight Activities 

Public ports across the U.S. engage in an extensive range of activities beyond freight movement, while federal grant programs and even port studies have focused largely on freight, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In its study called for by House Report 116-452, GAO said non-freight activities at ports can range from cruise ships and ferry terminals and commercial fishing to recreation and commercial and residential development.

Most of the 80 respondents to a  GAO survey of ports reported having a mix of freight and non-freight activities, with 67 respondents reporting being involved in non-freight activities  in the last 10 years.

“Port officials said they pursue non-freight activities to diversify lines of business, find new uses for underused facilities and address unmet community development needs,” GAO stated, pointing to the economic impacts of non-freight activities.

One study cited by GAO estimated that commercial fishing activity at the Port of Seattle accounted for 11,300 jobs and generated $1.4 billion in total business in 2017.

On the issue of grant funding, stakeholders told GAO that ports, especially small ports that lack the resources to develop a competitive application, face challenges with federal grant programs.

Vessel Security Officers

The Coast Guard announced the availability of Change 1 to Guidelines for Qualification for STCW Endorsements for Vessel Security Officers, Vessel Personnel with Designated Security Duties and Security Awareness, NVIC 21–14.

Effective on October 29, the change notice revises NVIC 21–14 to indicate the Coast Guard has determined that certain sea service aboard military and government owned or operated vessels may be credited toward meeting the sea service requirement for the STCW endorsement for vessel security officer (VSO).

To view the documents, search the docket number USCG–2020–0665 at www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact the Mariner Credentialing Program Policy Division (CG–MMC–2) at 202-372-2357.

Sea Year

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) anticipates lifting a recently imposed pause on Sea Year on December 22 with mandatory new safety standards in place, the Biden administration announced.

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Maritime Administration (MarAd), the six state maritime academies have confirmed their support of the new safety standards.

“In addition, new policies and procedures will be implemented at USMMA to support cadets while they are at sea,” DOT and MarAd stated.

USMMA’s Sea Year training program was paused several weeks ago to ensure measures were put in place to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment after reports indicated USMMA was being hit by new allegations of sexual misconduct.

Meanwhile, a bill to strengthen sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and accountability in the maritime industry and provide additional safeguards for midshipmen was advanced by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.