Critical News Concerning the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway

Salty Southeast Nautical Newsletter Supplement - 02/23/04

Hello Fellow Cruisers:

This is perhaps the single most important installment of the Salty Southeast nautical newsletter to ever reach your In-box. At least, it's that important if you EVER navigate the track of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway between Norfolk, Virginia and Miami, Florida. Even those of you who reside and cruise exclusively in the Florida Keys, along the western coastline of the Sunshine State, or on the Northern Gulf Coast, will want to read the startling information below. While this critical situation may not affect you as immediately as it will those of us who cruise along the eastern seaboard, the budget cuts outlined below will almost certainly impact your waterways eventually.

Allow me to begin with the "short version," and then I will present some of the more detailed information that has reached our office. All this began when I returned from a trip to Eastern Florida this past Thursday (February 19). As you might imagine, after being out of the office for almost a week, there were several hundred e-mails that required my eventual attention. As I sifted through these many messages, a couple stuck out. While all were cryptic, they referred me to a series of announcements and press releases from the "Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association." This is an organization with which I've had some contact. Some three years ago, Boat/US asked me to come to an AIWA conference in Charleston, South Carolina, to represent the cruising community's point of view. I addressed this meeting, but except for myself and Judith Light, former editor of "The Waterway Guide," all of the other attendees were commercial tow captains or officials of commercial Waterway shi pping operations. While, to be su re, the goals of these commercial captains and operators were in many ways analogous with the cruising community, clearly the emphasis, at least at that time, was bent towards non pleasure craft interests.

All of which is a long winded way of explaining why I did not follow up on these messages immediately. All that changed this morning when I received an urgent summons from Penny Leary Smith, director of the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center. Penny is a long time friend, and also one of the most knowledgeable people going as to what's happening on the water in Northeastern North Carolina. Anyway, Penny said I had to look at the AIWA's web site NOW, and believe me I then lost no time in doing so.

What I discovered was, to say the very least, ALARMING!!!!! And, I suspect it will alarm most you as well. I have now learned that we have both a long term and a critical short term problem with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Within the next few paragraphs, I'm going to give you a brief overview of these problems. Please understand that for the sake of brevity, I'm going to simplify a bit!

Well, with all that build-up, let's finally get into the real situation (at last). In the United States Federal Budget, recently sent to Congress by the Bush Administration, there has been $0 allocated for maintenance of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. That's right, at least as I understand it, a big, fat goose-egg for any dredging and/or maintenance of aids to navigation along the entire track of the Atlantic ICW. I must admit to being floored by this utter lack of funding!

How long does anyone think the Waterway will remain a viable entity to pleasure craft (not to mention commercial) traffic without dredging those shoal prone spots we can all think of? I can answer that question - "NOT LONG!"

And, that leads directly to the critical short term problem that I mentioned above. Over the past six months or so, the Waterway has been shoaling, as it often does, along its passage behind Lockwoods Folly Inlet, and across the mouth of Lockwoods Folly River in southeastern North Carolina. Depths in the Waterway channel at MLW have dropped to a mere 3 feet. This portion of the ICW has now been CLOSED to commercial Waterway traffic except at high water, and, even then, apparently the tow captains have to get special permission to proceed.

With the new and seemingly total lack of funding for dredging the Atlantic ICW, the Army Corps of Engineers is scrambling to try and find the necessary moneys in some other part of their budget to dredge this channel. There is NO guarantee that they will succeed.

Can you imagine the chaos this situation will cause this spring, if not remedied by dredging, as the annual snowbird migration begins moving north???!!!! Consider this; the nearest, completely reliable inlet south of Lockwoods Folly is Charleston, while the nearest reliable seaward cut to the north is the Cape Fear River. (Of course, you could use Little River Inlet near Calabash or the Winyah Bay inlet, but, while both are good enough for local captains, visiting cruisers may, quite rightly, not feel totally comfortable using either of these channels). Imagine all northward bound boats, large or small, sail or power, being REQUIRED to go outside from Charleston to Cape Fear, no matter what the weather, to continue their northward migration!

Clearly, this is a situation that requires the cruising community's immediate and full attention. It's time to call and write our US Congressional representatives to make our feelings and alarm forcefully heard. Below, in copies of several messages, from the AIWA and our faithful cruising reporter, "grandma Rosalie," you will hear specific recommendations as to how this critical goal can be accomplished. By all accounts, you need to visit the web site of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association immediately!!!! (http://www.atlintracoastal.org/)

You may rest assured that we will be pulling out all the stops here at Waterway Publishing to get the attention of our Federal government. May we strongly suggest that you do the same!

We also strongly urge any of you who receive this message, and are yourselves editors or contributors to other nautically oriented newsletters, to include an account of this serious problem in your publications. You may rest assured that you have my permission to use any of my words presented here without the need for further permission!

Thanks so much for your time and attention. Let's go to work!

Claiborne Young, Watermark Publishing

opcom@cruisingguide.com   http://www.CruisingGuide.com

Dear Members and Friends,

We have received a request from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the House to gather for them anecdotal information (basically, whatever you can give us) on the current status of our waterways -- shutdowns and near shutdowns, etc., and how it affects you. Congressmen would like to have this prior to the Water Resources Subcommittee hearing on the Corps' FY05 budget which is scheduled for February 26th. And, they are seriously considering having another hearing just on this issue. We know about several "hot spots" -- GIWW, AIWW, Black-Warrior, MRGO, etc.-but having your input is vital (including if you are on the aforementioned rivers.) They want the information in YOUR words.

Feel free to e-mail me with status reports worth@waterways.org , and we'll take care of the rest. Many thanks for your responses--and don't hesitate to forward this on toothers!

Worth Hager

President

National Waterways Conference

1130 17th Street, N.W.

Washington, DC 20036

(P) (202) 296-4415

worth@waterways.org

 

I heard from many of you that you were communicating with your elected representatives regarding the funding crisis affecting the AIWW. Thank you for your messages. I am sharing your emails describing your difficulties navigating the AIWW with members of Congress and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. We need more emails and phone calls. If you haven't contacted your Congressman yet please stop what you are doing and do it now! We have many members who don't live in the South but frequent the AIWW. I've heard from several of them wanting to know who they can contact. There are two very powerful committees that can help us. I urge all of you all to contact members of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and members of the House Energy & Water Development Committee. These committees are holding hearings in Washington in the next few weeks and it is extremely important that they hear from you. The contacts are as follows: Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, Water Resources & Environment subcommittee

Chairman- Rep. John Duncan (TN)

Go to www.house.gov/transportation to find the email links to committee members. Chairman John Duncan must hear from you and you might find your representative on the list. Remember Congress will work hard for an issue that is important to their constituents. It is up to you to tell them about the situation. It doesn't help if I am the only one lobbying for funds. House Appropriations Committee, Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Chairman, David L. Hobson (OH) http://appropriations.house.gov This will bring you to the committee's main page. Select Subcommittees from the menu and then Energy and Water Development. This will bring up the list of members. I urge you to send your messages to every committee member on this list. This is the committee that will approve funding for the Corps of Engineers.

I've stated that we need 100 emails or phone calls a day. Our waterway needs are not a priority since there are so many others in the same condition. It's time for us to become the "squeaky wheel."

Below is an excerpt from Worth Hager, President of the National Waterway Conference response to a question about the need for funding the AIWW. "The Office of Management and Budget has made its own little "rule" that so-called "low-use" waterways not be maintained. That is, waterways that carry less than 1 billion ton-miles of freight. Is it fair? No, its not. But, the guys at OMB making these arbitrary rules aren't willing to look at any other way of valuing our systems. They can't seem to understand the impact their decisions have on the lives of everyday people, regional development, our military installations, and the ability of our waterways to provide economic, environmental and recreational benefits. They only see it as a way not to spend money. We truly are working diligently to find some money for the AIWW. I personally know that Corps headquarters is searching the operation and maintenance budget as we speak for any spare funds. But, it won't be easy. First, their budget this year is a drop in the bucket of what they need. Already, the channels that go into New Orleans and Harlingen, TX, are silting up--they didn't get enough money either--and that affects a lot of our petroleum and international trade. Second, even if the Corps could find some spare money or just take it from another project,they will still face the wrath of OMB, and OMB has decreed that any "reprogramming" of funds over 15% of a project's budget has to be approved by them. In addition, they have to get approval from the appropriations committee staffs." As you can see from Worth's message, we really need to make the case for funding the AIWW. We need to hear from those who make a living from the waterway. Marinas, shrimpers, dredging companies, fishing boats, etc.

Thanks,

Rosemary

Here are some suggestions to help raise awareness about the conditions in the AIWW. Use our logo (attached) to make banners, bumper stickers, buttons, etc. Take them to Chamber of Commerce meetings, City Council meetings and local events

Write letters to the editor!!! The press can help us make a "splash" (sorry I couldn't resist that)

  • Post the attached flyer in retail and boating businesses or community bulletin boards.
  • Pass this information on to your email list of boating friends.
  • See if the community cable channel will display the flyer on air.
  • We need to make everyone aware of the serious crisis we are facing in the AIWW.

If the waterway closes, many businesses are going to be affected - not just marinas. Local shops and tourist sites will be impacted as well.

Let me know what you are doing to spread the Save the Waterway message. Thanks R