Navigation is the oldest USACE Civil Works mission, set forth in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution (and often referred to as “The Commerce Clause”). The class learned that USACE receives primary authority for “Deep Draft Navigation” from Section 101 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 86. Deep Draft Navigation generally refers to navigation projects with depths greater than -14 feet Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW).
The 2013 class conducted a visit to Mobile, Alabama for the Deep Draft Navigation course, which included a visit to the Deep Draft Navigation Planning Center of Expertise (DDN-PCX). The DDN-PCX was organized in 2003 and is responsible for district quality control of economic products related to Deep Draft Navigation studies as well as ensuring agency technical reviews and independent external peer reviews are adequately completed.
During construction of a project, USACE cost shares “General Navigation Features” (GNF) that include channels, jetties, anchorages, breakwaters, locks and disposal sites. The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for installing all aids to navigation. All other features, or “Local Service Facilities” (LSF), are fully funded by the non-federal sponsor. This includes docks, berthing areas, local access channels, terminals and transfer facilities. An easy way to differentiate between General Navigation Features and Local Service Facilities is whether the vessel is in transit or not. If the vessel is coming into the dock, all the facilities needed to get it from open water to the dock are General Navigation Features. Once the vessel stops, everything it touches are Local Service Facilities.
However, it’s usually not that simple. Different project depths are cost shared at different percentages. After construction is complete, the sponsor is responsible for repaying an additional percentage of the construction costs over a period of time. After all of these complexities are taken into account, it is necessary to consider the significant risks and uncertainties that are associated with these massive projects. Factors such as varying commodity flows, changes in fleet compositions, future price factors, developing world markets and increasing U.S. oil exports all contribute to risk and uncertainty decision making related to Deep Draft Navigation projects.