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Proposed Rule

Port Access Route Study of Potential Vessel Routing Measures To Reduce Vessel Strikes of North Atlantic Right Whales

Action

Notice Of Study; Request For Comments.

Summary

The Coast Guard is conducting a Port Access Route Study (PARS) on the area east and south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to include the northern right whale critical habitat, mandatory ship reporting system area, and the Great South Channel including Georges Bank out to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundary. The purpose of the PARS is to analyze potential vessel routing measures that might help reduce ship strikes with the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale while minimizing any adverse effects on vessel operations. The recommendations of the study will inform the Coast Guard and may lead to appropriate international actions.

 

Table of Contents Back to Top

DATES: Back to Top

Comments and related material must reach the Docket Management Facility on or before January 18, 2008.

ADDRESSES: Back to Top

You may submit comments identified by Coast Guard docket number USCG-2007-0057 to the Docket Management Facility at the U.S. Department of Transportation. To avoid duplication, please use only one of the following methods:

(1) Online: http://www.regulations.gov.

(2) Mail: Docket Management Facility (M-30), U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20590.

(3) Hand Delivery: Room W12-140 on the Ground Floor of the West Building, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20590, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. The telephone number is 202-366-9329.

(4) Fax: 202-493-2251.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Back to Top

If you have questions on this notice of study, call Mr. George Detweiler, Coast Guard Division of Navigation Systems, 202-372-1566, or send e-mail to George.H.Detweiler@uscg.mil. If you have questions on viewing or submitting material to the docket, call Ms. Renee K. Wright, Program Manager, Docket Operations, telephone 202-366-9826.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Back to Top

Public Participation and Request for Comments Back to Top

We encourage you to participate in this study by submitting comments and related materials. All comments received will be posted, without change, to http://www.regulations.gov and will include any personal information you have provided. We have an agreement with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to use the Docket Management Facility. Please see DOT's “Privacy Act” paragraph below.

Submitting comments: If you submit a comment, please include your name and address, identify the docket number for this notice (USCG-2007-0057) and give the reason for each comment. You may submit your comments by electronic means, mail, fax, or delivery to the Docket Management Facility at the address under ADDRESSES; but please submit your comments by only one means. If you submit them by mail or delivery, submit them in an unbound format, no larger than 81/2by 11 inches, suitable for copying and electronic filing. If you submit them by mail and would like to know that they reached the Facility, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed postcard or envelope. We will consider all comments received during the comment period.

Viewing comments and documents: To view comments, go to http://www.regulations.gov at any time, click on “Search for Dockets,” and enter the docket number for this notice in the Docket ID box, and click enter. You may also visit the Docket Management Facility in Room W12-140 on the ground floor of the DOT West Building, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20590, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

Privacy Act: Anyone can search the electronic form of all comments received into any of our dockets by the name of the individual submitting the comment (or signing the comment, if submitted on behalf of an association, business, labor union, etc.). You may review the Department of Transportation's Privacy Act Statement in the Federal Register published on April 11, 2000 (65 FR 19477), or you may visit http://DocketsInfo.dot.gov.

Definitions Back to Top

The following definitions should help you review this notice:

Area to be avoided or ATBA means a routing measure comprising an area within defined limits in which either navigation is particularly hazardous or it is exceptionally important to avoid casualties and which should be avoided by all vessels, or certain classes of vessels.

Deep-water route means a route within defined limits, which has been accurately surveyed for clearance of sea bottom and submerged obstacles as indicated on nautical charts.

Inshore traffic zone means a routing measure comprising a designated area between the landward boundary of a traffic separation scheme and the adjacent coast, to be used in accordance with the provisions of Rule 10(d), as amended, of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGS).

Precautionary area means a routing measure comprising an area within defined limits where vessels must navigate with particular caution and within which the direction of traffic flow may be recommended.

Recommended route means a route of undefined width, for the convenience of vessels in transit, which is often marked by centerline buoys.

Recommended track is a route which has been specially examined to ensure so far as possible that it is free of dangers and along which vessels are advised to navigate.

Regulated Navigation Area or RNA means a water area within a defined boundary for which regulations for vessels navigating within the area have been established under 33 CFR part 165.

Roundabout means a routing measure comprising a separation point or circular separation zone and a circular traffic lane within defined limits. Traffic within the roundabout is separated by moving in a counterclockwise direction around the separation point or zone.

Separation Zone or separation line means a zone or line separating the traffic lanes in which vessels are proceeding in opposite or nearly opposite directions; or from the adjacent sea area; or separating traffic lanes designated for particular classes of vessels proceeding in the same direction.

Traffic lane means an area within defined limits in which one-way traffic is established. Natural obstacles, including those forming separation zones, may constitute a boundary.

Traffic Separation Scheme or TSS means a routing measure aimed at the separation of opposing streams of traffic by appropriate means and by the establishment of traffic lanes.

Two-way route means a route within defined limits inside which two-way traffic is established, aimed at providing safe passage of ships through waters where navigation is difficult or dangerous.

Vessel routing system means any system of one or more routes or routing measures aimed at reducing the risk of casualties; it includes traffic separation schemes, two-way routes, recommended tracks, areas to be avoided, no anchoring areas, inshore traffic zones, roundabouts, precautionary areas, and deep-water routes.

Background and Purpose Back to Top

Why is this study being conducted? The Administration is developing measures to reduce ship strikes of right whales. The goal of these measures is to address the lack of recovery of the right whale by reducing the likelihood and threat of ship strikes.

Section 626 of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004 (the 2004 Act) (enacted August 9, 2004) mandated that the Coast Guard: (1) Cooperate with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “in analyzing potential vessel routing measures for reducing vessel strikes of North Atlantic Right Whales”, and (2) provide a final report of the analysis to Congress within 18 months after the date of enactment of the Act. The final report was delivered to Congress as required. A copy can be found in FDMS under this docket, USCG-2007-0057. The report contained possible future action items such as amending the Boston traffic separation scheme (TSS) and establishing a Great South Channel area to be avoided (ATBA).

The Coast Guard is charged with enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the regulations issued under those statutes. One of the Coast Guard's primary strategic goals is the protection of the marine environment, including the conservation of living marine resources and enforcement of living marine resource laws.

The Coast Guard works in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to prevent ship strikes of right whales and other endangered whale species. The Coast Guard issues local and written periodic notices to mariners concerning ship strikes, issues NAVTEX messages alerting mariners to the location of right whales, and actively participates in the Mandatory Ship Reporting (MSR) System that provides information to mariners entering right whale habitat. In addition, the Coast Guard provides patrols dedicated to enforcement of the ESA and the MMPA, provides limited vessel and aircraft support to facilitate right whale research and monitoring, and disseminates NMFS information packets to vessels boarded in or near right whale waters. NMFS asked the Coast Guard for assistance in protecting right whales by conducting this PARS.

When are port access route studies required? Under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (PWSA) (33 U.S.C. 1223(c)), the Commandant of the Coast Guard may designate necessary fairways and traffic separation schemes (TSSs) to provide safe access routes for vessels proceeding to and from U.S. ports. The PWSA provides that such designation of fairways and TSSs must recognize, within the designated areas, the paramount right of navigation over all other uses.

The PWSA requires the Coast Guard to conduct a study of potential traffic density and the need for safe access routes for vessels before establishing or adjusting fairways or TSSs. Through the study process, we must coordinate with Federal, State, and foreign state agencies (as appropriate) and consider the views of maritime community representatives, environmental groups, and other interested stakeholders. A primary purpose of this coordination is, to the extent practicable, to reconcile the need for safe access routes with other reasonable waterway uses.

What are the timeline, study area, and processes of this PARS? The Coast Guard Office of Waterways Management (CG-541) will conduct this PARS. The study will begin immediately and must be completed by December 2007 in order for us to prepare and submit documents, if deemed appropriate, to the IMO in accordance with IMO's required submission dates.

We will study the area bounded to the west by a line drawn at longitude 070° W; bounded to the north by a line drawn at latitude 43°00′ N; bounded to the east by the boundary of the exclusive economic zone; and bounded to the south by a line drawn at latitude 40° 30′ N. This area includes the northern right whale critical habitat, mandatory ship reporting system area, and the Great South Channel including Georges Bank out to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundary.

As part of this study, we will consider previous studies, analyses of vessel traffic density, right whale information and agency and stakeholder experience in and public comments on vessel traffic management, navigation, ship handling, and effects of weather. We encourage you to participate in the study process by submitting comments in response to this notice.

We will publish the results of the PARS in the Federal Register and provide a copy to NMFS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). In the study, we might—

1. Recommend creating new vessel routing measures;

2. Validate existing vessel routing measures, if any, and conclude that no changes are necessary; or

3. Recommend changes be made to existing vessel routing measures, if any, in order to reduce the threat of ship strikes of right whales.

The recommendations will inform Coast Guard and NOAA decision makers and may lead to appropriate international actions.

Possible Scope of the Recommendations Back to Top

We expect that information gathered during the study will help us identify any problems with vessel operations in right whale habitat areas and make conclusions about appropriate solutions. As a result of the study, we might decide that, in the study area, all or some of the following steps should be taken:

1. Maintain current vessel routing measures, if any;

2. Designate recommended or mandatory routes;

3. Create one or more precautionary areas;

4. Create one or more inshore traffic zones;

5. Create deep-draft routes;

6. Establish area(s) to be avoided;

7. Establish, disestablish, or modify anchorage grounds;

8. Establish a Regulated Navigation Area (RNA) with specific vessel operating requirements to ensure safe navigation near shallow water; or

9. Identify any other appropriate ships' routing measures to be used.

Questions Back to Top

To help us conduct the port access route study, we request information that will help answer the following questions, although comments on other issues addressed in this notice are also welcome. In responding to a question, please explain your reasons for each answer and follow the instructions under “Public Participation and Request for Comments” above.

1. What navigational hazards do vessels operating in the study area face? Please describe.

2. Are there strains on the current vessel routing system, such as increasing traffic density? Please describe.

3. What are the benefits and drawbacks to modifying existing vessel routing measures, if any, or establishing new routing measures? Please describe.

4. What impacts, both positive and negative, would changes to existing routing measures, if any, or new routing measures, have on the study area?

Dated: November 6, 2007.

F.J. Sturm,

Captain,U.S. Coast Guard,Acting Director of Prevention Policy.

[FR Doc. E7-22557 Filed 11-16-07; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4910-15-P

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