Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Coast Guard on the Western Rivers

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. By U.S. Coast Guard CDR Kevin Kiefer, LCDR Patrick Clark, and LT Leon McClain.

A proverb observes “It is not possible to step twice into the same river,” since a river is always changing. Rain water, current, debris, and other factors can quickly change the path, width, and depth of a river, making navigation by even the most experienced of its mariners a challenge.

The Western Rivers of the United States provide an extremely cost-effective means to transport commodities throughout the country, supplying goods to millions of people, generating jobs, and producing economic benefit. But with the substantial waterways traffic comes another challenge—maintaining safety and security for the people and companies who work on and near the water.

Coast Guard Responsibilities
The “Western Rivers” (also known as the “Inland Rivers”) is the area from North Dakota to Louisiana and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming.

Three Coast Guard sectors are in charge of maintaining safety and security along these rivers—Sector Lower Mississippi River, Sector Upper Mississippi River, and Sector Ohio Valley—all of which are within the Coast Guard’s Eighth District.

Each sector, while separate in command and area of responsibility (AOR), shares different portions of the same waterways, sees many of the same vessels, and works with many of the same companies and facilities.

Partnership among the sectors is essential in maintaining a unified Coast Guard posture as well as a safe, secure maritime community. Their responsibilities include:
· port and waterway safety and security,
· marine environmental protection,
· industrial facility inspections and investigations,
· search and rescue coordination,
· aids to navigation operations,
· commercial vessel safety,
· maritime law enforcement,
· merchant licensing and documentation,
· contingency planning,
· disaster relief,
· recreational boating safety,
· logistics and support.

While these responsibilities are the same ones expected of other Coast Guard units, the implementation of them on the Western Rivers is quite different—for example, protection of critical infrastructure such as bridges, refineries, and chemical facilities. Unlike coastal areas, where the majority of critical infrastructure is relatively close and confined to a specific geographic port, the Western Rivers are vast, with infrastructure spread over a large region, and, in some cases, far from Coast Guard resources.

Also, while portions of the Western Rivers are relatively wide, for the most part the rivers are narrow and less forgiving of navigational errors. Vessel groundings, damaged locks and dams, breakaway barges, and river closures are just some of the problems that keep the Coast Guard continually busy.

Sector Lower Mississippi River
The Sector Lower Mississippi River AOR includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. It encompasses more than 2,200 miles of the Mississippi, White, Arkansas, Black, Ouachita, Red, and Yazoo Rivers and their major tributaries.

Much of the sector’s area of responsibility, which does not have locks and dams to control the flow of river currents, consists of free-flowing navigable waterways. The lower Mississippi River levels, for example, can vary over a 50-foot range, which necessitates continuous movement of aids to navigation to mark the channel. These conditions also impact the navigable waterways and can accelerate occurrences of marine casualties.

Sector Upper Mississippi River
Sector Upper Mississippi River has the largest geographic area of responsibility of any sector within the lower 48 states. Its AOR spans Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

It encompasses more than 3,800 miles of the Missouri, upper Mississippi, and Illinois Rivers and their major tributaries, including more than 30 locks and dams and over 200 bridges. The sector is also responsible for several major interstate lakes, and is home to the famed “Party Cove” on Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.

Sector Ohio Valley
Sector Ohio Valley’s area of responsibility includes all or part of Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia. It encompasses more than 8,000 miles of navigable waterways, 11 major rivers, and major lakes on the Ohio, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Cumberland Rivers and their major tributaries. Within the AOR are more than 80 navigational locks and 200 major dams.

The Western Rivers
This area contains critical paths along the nation’s inner cities, providing valuable commerce throughout the nation. Protecting these waters and maintaining the safety and security of their surrounding maritime communities is a key mission for the Coast Guard, and one that provides many unique and interesting challenges for those members fortunate enough to serve here.

About the authors:
CDR Kevin Kiefer is a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and holds a Master of Engineering in manufacturing and a Master of Science in naval architecture and marine engineering.

LCDR Patrick Clark is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown College, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, and a 1990 graduate of Tennessee Technological University, with a Master of Science degree in biology.

LT Leon McClain is a 1998 graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, and a 2007 graduate of Webster University, with a Master of Arts in human resource management.

For more information:
Full article and “U.S. Coast Guard Western Rivers Sectors” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings. Click on “archives” and then “2007-08 Vol. 64, Number 4” (Winter 2007-08).

Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp.

Online survey available at: http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/survey.asp.

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.