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GA - Ports leaders fear impact of whale strike measure

Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs are at stake in Georgia if the federal government expands the North Atlantic Whale Strike Reduction Rule in its current form, the head of the Georgia Ports Authority warns.

That’s not all, GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch notes in a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo. There is also human safety to consider when ordering ocean-going cargo ships and harbor pilot boats to cap speed at 10 knots for close to half the year annually,

Ten knots is roughly the same as 11.5 mph.

“We believe NOAA is overlooking several critical factors as it seeks to implement harmful changes to the rule,” Lynch wrote. “The proposed rule raises considerable life and safety concerns, and would cause further interruptions to an already strained supply chain. If implemented in its current form, this rule will exacerbate congestion at American ports — resulting in detrimental effects on the nation’s economy.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service, which is proposing the amendment, contends the expanded rule is necessary to reduce the chance of vessels colliding with right whales along the Atlantic Coast. A branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which falls under the Secretary of Commerce, the NMFS estimates there are fewer than 350 right whales left.

Because Georgia’s offshore is a calving ground for right whales, ships would have to comply with the mandate from Nov. 1 to April 15.

Certain exemptions should be considered, Lynch advocates in his letter.

“We would request that NOAA consider an adjustment of the proposed rule — excluding Federal Navigation Channels and pilot boarding areas as well as exempting pilot vessels from these speed restriction zones,” Lynch wrote. “This modest alteration removes less than 1% of the total area covered by NOAA’s proposed rule while protecting the safe, efficient movement of imports and exports through East Coast ports.”

Lynch acknowledges that cargo ships already must adhere to the federally imposed speed limit but cautions against changes. What NMFS is proposing now will deliver a painful economic punch to the Peach State, he points out in the letter.

“NOAA’s economic impact assessment for the newly proposed rule does not consider any additional negative impacts to ocean going vessels because they are already regulated under the existing rule,” Lynch wrote. “The changes in deviation reporting and enforcement proposed under this rule, however, greatly alter the enforcement and oversight of necessary deviations, thereby greatly expanding the impacts on ocean-going vessels.”

Lynch enumerates some of the impacts in his letter to Raimondo.

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