Overview of the Report “A Ten Year Prioritization of Infrastructure Needs in the U.S. Arctic”

The Committee on the Marine Transportation System’s (CMTS) Arctic Marine Transportation Integrated Action Team prepared a report for the U.S. Department of Transportation that presents a framework for addressing the gaps in Arctic infrastructure.  It does this by identifying the critical requirements for a safe and secure U.S. Arctic Marine Transportation System (MTS) over the next decade.

The report builds on a larger 2013 report that looked at marine transportation in general.

Helen Brohl, Executive Director, CMTS, said that the report fulfills Directive 1.1.2 under the White House National Strategy for the Arctic Region (NSAR) 2014 Implementation Objective, which is to “Prepare for Increased Activity in the Maritime Domain.”  The deliverable is “a 10-year prioritization framework to coordinate the phased development of federal infrastructure through Department and Agency validated needs assessment by the end of 2016.”  This will address the infrastructure gaps and safety and security needs in an actionable manner that will facilitate responsible activity and growth in the region.

The authors anticipate that the framework will take the challenges that were identified and break them down into manageable parts by supplying recommendations that can be implemented immediately.

The prioritization framework made 43 recommendations, and organized them into five categories:

  1. Navigable Waterways
  2. Physical Infrastructure
  3. Information Infrastructure
  4. Response Services
  5. Vessels

The framework includes the traditional definition of port infrastructure, communication, planning, management, environmental policies, regulatory implementation, and human capabilities.  All of these elements are required for safe and secure marine transportation.

The recommendations are grouped into three timeline categories:

  • Infrastructure considerations that requires both near-term planning and implementation (less than five years).
  • Infrastructure considerations requiring near term planning for mid-term and long-term implementation (five to six years).
  • Infrastructure considerations requiring long-term planning and implementation (seven to 10 years).

The report includes 25 near term recommendations involving navigable waterways, physical infrastructure, information infrastructure, MTS response surveys, and vessel operations.  All can be found in the Executive Summary.  The specific recommendations include:

  • Leverage existing data-sharing frameworks to facilitate waterways planning and response to environmental emergencies.
  • Work with stakeholders to coordinate research efforts to de-conflict research within commercial and subsistence use areas.
  • Prioritize the need for Arctic port reception facilities to support international regulatory needs and future growth.
  • Review U.S. Arctic maritime commercial activities to identify major infrastructure gaps that need to be addressed to promote safe and sustainable Arctic communities.
  • Improve weather, water and climate predictions to an equivalent level of service as is provided to the rest of the nation.
  • Place U.S. maritime Arctic hydrography and charting among the highest priority requirements for agency execution.
  • Advance Arctic communication networks to ensure vessel safety.

The report also discusses icebreakers, ports of refuge, deep draft ports, Search and Rescue Operations (SAR), environmental response, the Polar Code and crew safety, and standards.

As its next step, CMTS will deliver recommendations for pursuing federal public-private partnerships in support of the needs assessment and prioritized activity identification (1.1.3).

The CMTS is seeking input from all sides—government, investors, states, tribes and communities—on experiences related to infrastructure project alternative financing, particularly for projects in Alaska and the U.S. Arctic.

During the question and answer period, a CMTS representative said the report is designed to look at the federal authorization.  Each agency department may or may not have a funding mechanism for maritime infrastructure projects.  The report will not specifically describe public-private partnerships (P3’s) and how the federal government engages in them.  Instead, it is designed to look more closely at agency authority.  For example, the Army Corps of Engineers’ legislative authority is compared to the State of Alaska’s legislative authority.

Later sections of the document give recommendations for critical infrastructure, which provides good candidates for P3’s and where avenues may exist to explore alternative financing mechanisms, as well as potential government use of nontraditional financing mechanisms for infrastructure development.

John Higgenbotham, Senior Fellow of the Center for International Governance Innovation, drew attention to Canada’s report on Northern and Arctic Infrastructure.  This catalog of infrastructure and infrastructure tools was provided to the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group and is now being given to CMTS, Higgenbotham said.  Looking at a national strategy is good to realize, he added, but there is also an international component to Arctic maritime transportation infrastructure.

He asked if the U.S. Coast Guard will consider providing routing measures.  With the identification of Port Clarence as an important port of refuge, a routing system through the port entrance would be wise to have, particularly for vessels in need.

A CMTS representative responded that the Coast Guard has released a port access route study and that people can provide comments.  When it’s completed, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration can place the information on area charts.

The CMTS representative also said that Framework 1.1.2 has now been sent to the White House, and CMTS is planning an open comment period.  The public can provide information that CMTS can work with.  Another webinar will be held in a month or so to provide an update on the progress.