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Proposed Rule

Port Access Routes Study; Along the Sea Coast and in the Approaches to the Cape Fear River and Beaufort Inlet, NC

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Coast Guard, DOT.


Notice of study; request for comments.


The Coast Guard is conducting a Port Access Routes Study (PARS) to evaluate the need for vessel routing or other vessel traffic management measures along the sea coast of North Carolina and in the approaches to the Cape Fear River and Beaufort Inlet. The goal of the study is to help reduce the risk of marine casualties and increase vessel traffic management efficiency in the study area. The recommendations of the study may lead to future rulemaking action or appropriate international agreements.


Comments and related material must reach the Docket Management Facility on or before March 19, 2002.


To make sure that your comments and related material are not entered more than once in the docket, please submit them by only one of the following means:

(1) By mail to the Docket Management Facility (USCG-2001-11201), U.S. Department of Transportation, room PL-401, 400 Seventh Street SW., Washington, DC 20590-0001.

(2) By delivery to room PL-401 on the Plaza level of the Nassif Building, 400 Seventh Street SW., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. The telephone number is 202-366-9329.

(3) By fax to the Docket Management Facility at 202-493-2251.

(4) Electronically through the Web Site for the Docket Management System at

The Docket Management Facility maintains the public docket for this document. Comments and material received from the public, as well as documents mentioned in this preamble as being available in the docket, will Start Printed Page 2617become part of this docket and will be available for inspection or copying at room PL-401 on the Plaza level of the Nassif Building, 400 Seventh Street SW., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. You may also find this docket on the Internet at

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If you have questions on this notice of study, call Tom Flynn, Project Officer, Aids to Navigation and Waterways Management Branch, Fifth Coast Guard District, telephone 757-398-6229, e-mail; or George Detweiler, Office of Vessel Traffic Management, Coast Guard, telephone 202-267-0574, e-mail If you have questions on viewing or submitting material to the docket, call Dorothy Beard, Chief, Dockets, Department of Transportation, telephone 202-366-5149.

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Request for Comments

We encourage you to participate in this study by submitting comments and related material. If you do so, please include your name and address, identify the docket number for this notice of study (USCG-2001-11201), indicate the specific section of this document to which each comment applies, and give the reason for each comment. You may submit your comments and material by mail, hand delivery, fax, or electronic means to the Docket Management Facility at the address under ADDRESSES; but please submit your comments and material by only one means. If you submit them by mail or hand delivery, submit them in an unbound format, no larger than 81/2 by 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 and material received during the comment period.

Public Meeting

We do not now plan to hold a public meeting. But you may submit a request for one to the Docket Management Facility at the address under ADDRESSES explaining why one would be beneficial. If we determine that one would aid this study, we will hold one at a time and place announced by a later notice in the Federal Register.


The following definitions should help you review this notice:

Area to be avoided (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 ships, or certain classes of ships.

Deep-water route is 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 is 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 ships 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 ships in transit, which is often marked by centerline buoys.

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

Regulated Navigation Area (RNA) is 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 is a routing measure comprising a separation point or circular separation zone and a 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 ships are proceeding in opposite or nearly opposite directions; or from the adjacent sea area; or separating traffic lanes designated for particular classes of ships proceeding in the same direction.

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

Traffic separation scheme (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 is 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, inshore traffic zones, roundabouts, precautionary areas, and deep-water routes.

Background and Purpose

Port Access Route Study Requirements. Under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (PWSA), the Secretary of Transportation may designate necessary fairways and TSS's to provide safe access routes for vessels proceeding to and from U.S. ports (33 U.S.C. 1223 (c)). The Secretary's authority to make these designations was delegated to the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, in 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1.46. The designation of fairways and TSS's recognizes the paramount right of navigation over all other uses in the designated areas.

The PWSA requires the Coast Guard to conduct a study of port-access routes before establishing or adjusting fairways or TSS's. 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.

Initial port access route study. The approaches to the Cape Fear River and Beaufort Inlet, NC were last studied in 1981, and the final results were published in the Federal Register on July 22, 1982 (47 FR 31766). The study concluded that “there is no need to impose new ship routing measures such as TSS's or shipping safety fairways where fixed structures would be prohibited, in any” area off the North Carolina coast.

Why is a new port access route study necessary? Vessel size, traffic density and channel depth and width have changed since the 1981 study. Major channel depth, width and alignment changes are currently underway in the Cape Fear River and port of Wilmington, NC. A PARS was initiated in 1996 (61 FR 35703; July 8, 1996), but was not completed due to personnel and funding issues.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (ACoE) report, “Waterborne Commerce Start Printed Page 2618of the United States” reports that, from 1981 to 1999, annual trips to and from the Port of Wilmington, NC, increased from 10,060 to 24,190 or 140% and the number of trips to and from Morehead City, NC, decreased from 7,842 to 3,388 or 57%. Since 1981 the Army Corps of Engineers maintained Federal Navigation Project for the Cape Fear River ocean bar channel has increased the channel depth from 38 feet to 40 feet. Dredging is currently underway in the Cape Fear River, which will deepen the channels from the Atlantic Ocean to Wilmington to 42 feet and to 44 feet over the ocean bar. The project depth for Beaufort Inlet/Morehead City has increased from 42 feet to 45 feet.

Timeline, area, and process of this PARS. The Fifth Coast Guard District will conduct this PARS to determine the need to modify existing routing measures and the effects of potential modifications in the study area. The study will begin immediately and we anticipate the study will be completed by January 31, 2002.

The study area will encompass the area bounded by a line connecting the following geographic points (All coordinates are NAD 1983):


The study area encompasses the approaches to the Cape Fear River and Beaufort Inlet, as well as the area offshore of North Carolina used by commercial and public vessels transiting to and from these ports.

As part of this study, we will consider previous studies, analyses of vessel traffic density, and agency and stakeholder experience in 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. It is possible that the study may validate continued applicability of existing vessel routing measures and conclude that no changes are necessary. It is also possible that the study may recommend one or more changes to enhance navigational safety and vessel traffic management efficiency. Study recommendations may lead to future rulemakings or appropriate international agreements.

Potential Study Recommendations

We are attempting to determine the scope of any safety problems associated with vessel transits in the study area. We expect that information gathered during the study will identify any problems and appropriate solutions. The study may recommend that we—

  • Maintain the current vessel routing measures;
  • Establish a TSS in the Approaches to the Cape Fear River;
  • Establish a TSS in the Approaches to Beaufort Inlet;
  • Establish a TSS off North Carolina encompassing the routes typically used by merchant and naval vessels transiting the study area;
  • Establish a Precautionary Area(s) near either or both Approaches;
  • Establish an Inshore Traffic Zone(s) near either or both approaches;
  • Establish an Area to be Avoided (ATBA) in shallow areas where the risk of grounding is present;
  • Create Anchorage Grounds(s); and
  • Establish a Regulated Navigation Area (RNA) with specific vessel operating requirements to ensure safe navigation near shallow water.


To help us conduct the port access route study, we request comments on the following questions, although comments on other issues addressed in this document are also welcome. In responding to a question, please explain your reasons for each answer, and follow the instructions under “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 (increasing traffic density, for example)? If so, please describe.

3. Are modifications to existing vessel routing measures needed to address hazards and strains and improve traffic management efficiency in the study area? Why or why not? If so, what measures should the study of port-access routes address for potential implementation?

4. What costs and benefits are associated with the measures listed as potential study recommendations? What measures do you think are most cost-effective?

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

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Dated: December 27, 2001.

Joseph J. Angelo,

Director of Standards, Marine Safety and Environmental Protection.

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[FR Doc. 02-1371 Filed 1-17-02; 8:45 am]