Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)
Q: Commander Sir, if you could just give me your name and rank and spell your last name for me please.
CDR Little: You bet. Commander John Little and I’m a Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard and my last name is spelled L-I-T-T-L-E.
Q: Great, and Lieutenant Sir?
LT Posey: Lieutenant Ward Posey; P-O-S-E-Y.
Q: Great. Sir, could you give me just a paragraph on your career and how you came to be in this position when Katrina hit. Are you Academy or OCS?
CDR Little: I’m an OCS graduate. I enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1983. Before enlisting I was a Mate on inland waterway tugboats on the Ohio and the Tennessee and the Cumberland Rivers. Having done that for four years I enlisted and spent my first four years out in the 14th Coast Guard District. I went to Officer Candidate School in the winter of 1987 and then served a couple of tours shipboard right after OCS on Coast Guard cutter Bear and as the Executive Officer onboard the Coast Guard cutter Morro Bay in Yorktown, Virginia. I followed that up with a land tour at the VTS in Houston. I was Operations Officer there and then went to become Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard cutter Katmai Bay up on Lake Superior. I had three years in command up there. I went from there to the Waterways Vessel Traffic Management Office in Coast Guard Headquarters; G-MWV, and then went to become the Commanding Officer of Coast Guard cutter Mobile Bay; an icebreaking buoy tender in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
Three years in command of that icebreaking buoy tender led me to this office here. And we are a dual-hatted 5th District OAE in Atlantic Area waterways so we wear two hats here.
Q: Do you get to canoe up the Rappahannock or anything like that?
CDR Little: Well I get to ride the construction tenders or take IT teams; A and Bs, up there in DP. But also we are overseeing . . . the International Ice Patrol reports to us. As Atlantic Area we have icebreaking operations in the 1st and 9th Districts. Our Program Manager for Domestic Icebreaking in the Atlantic Area; the International Ice Patrol, reports to me out of Groton, Connecticut and we have a LORAN Station in D-5; LORAN Station Carolina Beach.
Q: International Ice Patrol is an Atlantic Area asset?
CDR Little: It is.
Q: So all those C-130s and all that business of . . . ?
CDR Little: Obviously they’re based out of Elizabeth City and they work for Elizabeth City but they are chopped to the International Ice Patrol and we’re really just their Program Manager/OPM.
Q: So have you taken a tour up to Newfoundland to look at the ice?
CDR Little: I have not. Now I’ve been at the Ice Conferences at the Academy on their behalf and with them but never have taken any of their patrols. Yes, well I’ve been in my position two years.
Q: Now see Polar History is my specialty so if you ever need somebody that can take a tour through New Finland give me a holler and I’ll find a way to get the orders [chuckle], and hop onboard. How about you Sir?
LT Posey: I’m Chief of the Operations Section for the Atlantic Area in the 5th District; Aids to Navigation Waterways Section. I’m a Chief Boatswain Mate, got commissioned as a Warrant and then Warrant to Lieutenant.
My background; when I first joined the Coast Guard was Boot Camp and three SAR stations and then I went afloat on two cutters; the
Acushnet and the Point Lookout. I was XPO on the Point Lookout and then I began my career in Aids to Navigation on the
Chippewa; a river tender, and then from the Chippewa I went to the
Pamlico, which is a construction tender out of New Orleans. Then from
Pamlico I was the Officer in Charge of the Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) in Escanaba
MI, up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. From there I was in the 2nd District for a short time before they closed it and then went to the cutter
Bramble as the First Lieutenant. And then on Bramble I received my commission as a Lieutenant and then went to XO of
Q: This is a strange event for you guys I think. When I interviewed Admiral Casto down there after 9/11 he made the point that New Orleans is a strange port because it’s not like Nantucket or Boston or Miami, its 200 miles long and two miles wide.
When this started did you have sort of a sense before this hurricane hit . . . were there discussions about what this might do to Aids to Navigation and how you’re going to respond to it?
CDR Little: Absolutely, both Ward and I did. We have had hurricanes here in the 5th District. We arrived here two years ago. Soon after our arrival Hurricane Isabelle came ashore with 107 mile an hour winds in Virginia Beach and in doing so left us 969 ATON discrepancies, which took us a year to recover from completely. And again, both of us during that time were plugged into the IMT and that was not really a SAR event because everybody prepared - we had a lot of notice - and it became an ATON waterway right away. So Captain of the Port meetings, Waterways Management Working Groups, interactions with the Corps and NOAA, the pilots; we were plugged right into that as Chief of OAN.
Q: Yes Sir, it sounds to me like discrepancies because it covers a range of problems.
CDR Little: It does, both buoys and dayboards and from large buoys that drifted ashore at Virginia Beach right in front of the Holiday Inn and made the front page of the Virginia Pilot to the small backwater dayboards. Again, they all count the same in the light list when it’s a discrepancy. So Ward and I had to live through that for several weeks during that and in fact of course it landed here so we were trapped in the building for the most part. I spent a couple of nights here in the IMT just because you couldn’t get home.
So when we saw Katrina we began talking about it and actually began staging cutters. As we’re the Operational Commander for seven Coast Guard buoy tenders and construction tenders in D-5 we had to get the larger buoy tenders prepared in the event there was a response needed for the Gulf, ready to go. So we started looking at equipment onloads, fueling, looking at the status of the large buoy tenders on the East Coast because in the last eight years we’ve gone from many buoy tenders to a few. Now larger are WLBs they’re called. And the 225s; now there’s only one per District except the 1st District has two so we were preparing well in advance. Both Ward and I have been down in New Orleans. I was assigned in Houston, Galveston and then stood up the vessel traffic at New Orleans and so I did a lot of waterway management.
Q: Were there assets that you could call upon to reset buoys on the Mississippi River without calling in a buoy tender from another District or from in the Gulf before this event happened? Is there stuff upriver in St. Louis or Pittsburg or wherever?
LT Posey: There is but when you’re talking about buoys you have your river tenders, your WLRs, and then you have your traditional side-loading buoy tenders like your WLMs and WLBs, and when you’re working river buoys they’re different. Those buoys are set with normally a 2,000 pound sinker with wire rope attached to the buoy. When you’re working with sea buoys, that are used all the way up to Baton Rouge, they’re set with sinkers and chain so you just can’t take a WLR out of the rivers, out of Memphis or out of the Arkansas River and send them down to work sea buoys.
Q: Is there a policy that they stop where the sea buoys start, those river tenders?
LT Posey: The WLMs work up to Baton Rouge and then the river tenders, the WLRs take over.
Q: So anything past New Orleans up to Baton Rouge and so forth you need a buoy tender for that?
CDR Little: Or a construction tender.
CDR Little: And that’s my mark on the Mississippi; that’s my mark. 235 is what we classify as Baton Rouge.
CDR Little: My mark . . . about 90 to 105 is New Orleans and 0 is Pilot Town and below that is Head of Passes. So we had been familiar with the waterway down there having been assigned down there and having run it many, many times. So we began looking in advance of what kind of equipment that might be needed; lessons learned from Hurricane Isabelle like an awful lot of dayboards that we shipped in from many, many ISCs. So we began staging equipment and then getting contracts and getting contracts modified to build equipment because we knew there would be quite a few discrepancies that would need immediate attention.
Q: When all was said and done and the hurricane blew ashore, where did the damage stop, at what mile marker? Did you have to worry about anything on the river?
LT Posey: Oh certainly, absolutely. The Aids to Navigation Teams did surveys from Baton Rouge on down and there was some sporadic damage up between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but from New Orleans downriver was where the primary damage was.
CDR Little: We’ve been producing these for the IMT here - really since the storm blew through - as inclusions in their package to Headquarters and then on to DHS if need be, and really it’s more than just the river systems. The first thing was major port openings and then the connecting waterways of those ports, especially the Inter-Coastal Waterway. So you have a variety of different ATON infrastructures there from terrestrial ranges, which large ships use for major port entry, to smaller dayboards and smaller buoys for the Inter-Coastal Waterway transits used by tug and barge, so very different sets of skill sets and tenders needed.
LT Posey: And as soon as the hurricane passed, District 8 has one WLB, two WLMs and five construction tenders plus a variety of ANT Teams that responded to the damage immediately.
Q: This stretch from New Orleans to Port Arthur, this is the Inter-Coastal Waterway also?
CDR Little: It is.
Q: And it’s closed?
CDR Little: Right now that’s post-Rita.
Q: Right, exactly, but this is all part of the Inter-Coastal here?
LT Posey: You have the Gulf Inter-Coastal Waterway and then the Atlantic Coast Inter-Coastal Waterway that runs down the coast.
Q: That runs down the Atlantic Coast and then it becomes the Gulf when it hits the Gulf of Mexico?
LT Posey: They actually don’t mean Gulf. There is some offshore transit. If you were going to make the transit there is some offshore transition transits involved. now.
CDR Little: The Inter-Coastal begins in Brunswick and with the exception of those few interruptions that Ward mentioned it goes all the way up to the East Coast.
Q: So you were pre-planning in the sense that you had identified what ATONs might be impacted and then how you’re going to respond to them?
CDR Little: Well we first notified the 7th District’s Aids to Navigation office down here to get a status of what they would be responding with to post-Katrina. They have an awful lot of experience in post-hurricane recovery down there in D-7 and they have Tiger Teams and a great variety of equipment. So we were determining what they had and who they were sending so that we could either A: augment them, or B: backfill them, because we just began the height of hurricane season so we didn’t want to get too thin and send everything that we had to the Gulf, especially our buoy tender because there were others following up, and in fact two weeks ago Ophelia landed on our doorstep in Hatteras at a hundred miles an hour.
Q: Did it end up that you had to send the buoy tender there? What did you end up deciding that they had and what they were going to need to get back up and running?
CDR Little: Well the 7th District immediately sent the Coast Guard cutter Oak and the Coast Guard cutter Joshua Applebee out. That would be two of their larger buoy tenders. Oak is their largest at 225. They got her underway. They were down in the Miami area staged at Key West, took on equipment and waited. Again, the seas were huge in the Gulf so they had to let the sea sit just a bit and while they were doing that; loading equipment and necessary stores and hurricane response equipment that they thought they might need; dayboards and so forth, then they would deploy from Key West. The Joshua Applebee is moored in Tampa/St. Pete. They did the same. They don’t have quite the sea-keeping capabilities so they had to delay a few days due to weather. Then it became, “What does D-8 need?” Well the first thing they needed was someone who knew Aids to Navigation and their waterway infrastructure to come and actually sit in their offices in St. Louis and help them manage their waterways. So the first thing we did was dispatch Lieutenant Posey there because he was the perfect candidate.
Q: What did you find when you got there?
LT Posey: I went to St. Louis to specifically help the Aids to Navigation office and I started working for Steve Hadley; a civilian there who worked in the office. All the senior officers from the Aids to Navigation staff were tasked for the IMT with other duties and didn’t have any time at all to devote to the Aids to Navigation program, and that’s where I went in and helped Steve Hadley out with talking to the Group ATON Officers and finding out what kind of supplies we would need, how many piles, how many dayboards, how many buoys, what kind of buoys and where could we send them.
CDR Little: Where is that entry point?
LT Posey: We ended up setting up . . . and in St. Louis D-8 moved their IMT there so they were taking a lot of resources away from what is now just a small office up there; the ISC. Steve and I were able to get two desks in the Bridge Branch there with computers and we were able to establish D-8 OAN there and from there we would talk to the Group ATON Officers and then we decided to start sending supplies to Mobile and to Morgan City, and that’s where the ATON Officer in Mobile would be working out for Gulfport, Mobile, Pascagoula, Biloxi; those areas. Then the ATON Officer from Sector New Orleans moved himself and his cell phone to ANT Morgan City and that was his base of operations. So we started sending pilings and everything to Morgan City.
You couldn’t get into the city of New Orleans to get to Base New Orleans to stage supplies. You couldn’t get to Venice to stage supplies down at the mouth of the Mississippi. Gulfport was literally wiped out. So those were the two staging areas for supplies that we eventually ordered in mass.
CDR Little: Each OAN not only has an Ops Officer, like Ward is on our staff, but they have a variety of other roles; Notice to Mariners, Broadcasting Notices to Mariners, and an Equipment Manager and Hardware Supply Manager. Well again, they were not prepared to man their office up fully so until their Supply and Equipment Manager was manned we handled ordering equipment for them because we’re LantArea. So working closely with D-7, who has a lot of hurricane stock, we started letting contracts through the CU at Cleveland and IC Portsmouth to make sure that buoys that were in for refurbishment got priority over maybe some other work that wasn’t ATON related or hurricane related at these Base Industrials. So we had our Equipment/Hardware Manager . . . again, that was immediate. We also sent another officer with Aids to Navigation experience down to work in their Sector in the New Orleans office in Alexandria to do a similar function to what Ward was doing.
Q: How do you inter-finger with . . . how do you get guidance out to, lets say a Coast Guard cutter is coming up to New Orleans and you’ve got 20 ATONs where they’re not supposed to be and 15 that are just missing, what special precautions do they have to take? Do you talk to those folks and essentially how do they navigate when a situation’s been compromised?
CDR Little: Well again, you’re talking about after the storm in D-8. So the first thing they needed, as it was for D-5 after Isabelle, they needed a D-5 OAN to talk too. Well they needed a D-8 OAN to manage that and help give them operational guidance and commands, and that’s what Ward and Steve did.
LT Posey: The ATON cutters themselves, the COs on ATON cutters are very used to working independently. Most of the only guidance that the buoy tenders needed was, “Okay, Oak, we want you to work in this area. Cypress, we want you to work in this area. Barbara Mabrity and Harry Claiborne, we want you to work in this area. And when you think you’ve set the buoys there or recovered what you can, let us know and then we’ll be looking where to send you next.”
CDR Little: While they’re enroute to respond, the Captain of the Port and the various Sector Commanders are coordinating Port and Waterway Working Group meetings as we did here post-Isabelle and they’ve been ongoing in New Orleans and Mobile right after Katrina, and they’re ongoing now at Houston, post-Rita. This is to outline a priority of waterways management; what gets opened first, what gets surveyed first, what vessels run first up that waterway to determine if it’s safe to pass for larger vessels. These are all worked out through those Waterway Working Group meetings.
Q: And were parts of the channel – I mean this is a long channel - were parts of this channel; significant stretches of it, compromised I mean in terms of depth and even route?
LT Posey: In not just one channel. I mean the ports affected from Katrina started at Pascagoula and moved to Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula - Biloxi and Gulfport here in the same area - the Mississippi River Gulf outlet, the Mississippi River and the Inter-Coastal east and west of New Orleans.
CDR Little: Mobile was affected. All of the regions in Mobile were affected.
LT Posey: Oh yes, Mobile, absolutely.
CDR Little: There wasn’t a port open really west of Mobile after the storm within the next day or two because Pensacola and Panama City opened first - they were minimally impacted - but Mobile and west were substantially impacted.
Q: When you say closed, does that mean that no vessels can come in until the Coast Guard has certified that its navigation is safe?
LT Posey: And that’s where we work with NOAA and the Army Corp of Engineers. The Captain of the Port will close the ports - and he has the authority to do that - and after the storm the Army Corp of Engineers is responsible for maintaining the channels. So if there’s a channel that had shoaled in, that’s the Corp’s responsibility to get a dredge there to dredge that channel out. When they’re done with that, or before, during or after, it’s the Coast Guard’s responsibility to mark that channel.
LT Posey: So while the Corps is doing the surveys to determine if there’s anything on the bottom, you know is there a sunken shrimp boat in the channel? Did the hurricane shoal the entrance channel over, the Coast Guard was responding in rebuilding and resetting the Aids to Navigation all at the same time.
CDR Little: If you look at the ports like Mobile the project depth at the bar is 45 feet and 43 in the inner-channel. The ships would come up that waterway almost on the bottom. I mean there will just be a few inches, sometimes maybe a foot or two, of spared difference in drafts. If there’s a buoy or an obstruction in that channel and it’s not clearly marked there’s not a lot of room for error. And now you’ve got a sunken vessel blocking the channel, and particularly when you’re talking about the ports of the lower Mississippi River and the Houston ship channel with petro-chemical and refining plants; a lot of lightering vessels there, now you’ve got an oil pollution incident. So the Captain of the Port was very cautious in getting detailed Corp of Engineers and NOAA and Coast Guard and Navy, sonar and side-scan sonar bottom surveys to not only determine shoalings, like I said, but also to find obstructions. There were a hundred plus barges missing in fleeting areas and from owners reported as unaccounted for in the lower Mississippi River, so where were they? And that’s why the channel was not opened right away until those extensive bottom surveys were done.
Q: And were many of those found on the bottom?
LT Posey: There were some. One of the holdups in opening up the Mississippi River was that down in the Southwest pass they had some objects that were at 37 feet below the surface of the water. So the Captain of the Port opened the port up to 35-foot vessels where a 35-foot draft could transit but no larger drafts than that until they figured what that was. And what they would do is they would send a Corps vessel down there with commercial divers to figure out where it is and then send a commercial recovery company down there to recover or clean out the channel. It’s actually still ongoing in the inner-harbor navigational canal in New Orleans. They’re recovering some barges that had drifted and are partially blocking the channel now.
CDR Little: And in areas like Mobile, Pascagoula, Gulfport and Biloxi its fishing and shrimp vessels that have sunk. In fact Biloxi had, I think 15 identified sunk in the channel.
Q: In the channel?
CDR Little: Yes, so those ports cannot be reopened until those vessels are removed.
Q: And it looks like those have all been removed by now.
CDR Little: They have; the ones in the channel.
Q: Yes. Was this unusual because of its scope? I mean have you dealt with something across this suede of coast before or is this something that you could compare to another hurricane response?
CDR Little: Hurricane Isabelle was as close as I’ve been to something of this magnitude. But the difference in it was really it only impacted a couple of ports. The Port of Hampton Roads, which of course leads to Richmond, the National Capital Region and Baltimore up the Chesapeake Bay, but really when you got north of Baltimore it was not as much of an impact to major ports; lots of ATON infrastructure damage but not as many critical waterways. This is just a myriad of major ports that were impacted and then of course the Mississippi all the way to and above Baton Rouge.
Q: How did you prioritize which ports you were going to get too to figure out what their problems were at first? I mean you must have had, as you say, you’ve got a couple of people that you’re dealing with.
CDR Little: Well the 8th District has a . . . we all have instructions on port priority following major disasters; which ports get opened first.
Q: You do, okay.
CDR Little: Yes, and D-8 has that and that’s what they began working towards.
LT Posey: And D-8 has a list of priority Aids to Navigation. They’ve been through enough hurricanes to have this list very well established. They certainly have never experienced anything this widespread.
Q: I was going to say you’ve got this priority list but if you can’t get to those things how do you overcome that?
LT Posey: You start where you can and then you start moving your assets. Talking about the Port of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, that is not only those ports but that’s the entire port - the Mississippi River is the entrance to the middle of the country - and everybody that ships grain out of the middle of the country goes through New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It’s just a huge amount of traffic that goes through there. And one thing that we were able to do with the Aids to Navigation Program there in D-8 after the storm hit is it was very difficult to get the surveys of the Mississippi River done quickly. So we were able to put some assets in Mobile, Pascagoula, and Gulfport to open up those ports while they were waiting on the Corp of Engineers to complete their surveys in the Mississippi River and the Mississippi River Gulf outlet. So that actually gave us sometime to establish aids . . . so the pressure was on the ACOE for a while to get those surveys done and we were able to work in some other ports.
CDR Little: Plus the infrastructure in those ports on the Mississippi wasn’t ready to receive shipping traffic. People either weren’t there to go to work, couldn’t get to work, or the facility wasn’t there to work at. So while those were being re-established and power resupplied and people re-hired or restored in the port, the surveys began.
Q: What about the opposite; how much stuff did you have coming down the river that was bottlenecked because it couldn’t get out?
LT Posey: An awful lot. I wouldn’t have those figures handy but there was quite a bit of . . . .
Q: Where would that bottleneck show up? I mean would everything sort of just park in St. Louis or I mean where would everything sort of stop while they were waiting for the lower Mississippi to get opened again?
LT Posey: They would have had to do a lot of planning, and shipping companies would have had to start holding their traffic because there would have been no reason to move grain barges down to Baton Rouge or New Orleans if you can’t offload them to load them onto ships. So literally it could have been backed up all the way to the Ohio River and on up.
CDR Little: But what also happens is these companies realize the shelf life of this material, if there is one, and look for alternative transportation means. It’s just as if there was a bridge down that a certain ship couldn’t get under then they would transfer that cargo to a tug and barge that could get under it. The same kind of thing happens on the Mississippi. They would look for rail, truck, or there is an alternative route to the lower Mississippi called the Port Allen Alternative Route, which feeds the Gulf Inter-Coastal Waterway from the Mississippi just south of Baton Rouge and that is right here. And so if cargos don’t get to New Orleans they can go to the ICW or maybe to other ports along this Port Allen route.
Additionally, right before, if you recall, the Western River had a severe drought this summer and so there were record low water levels in that area and so their barges were not being able to be shipped in the numbers that they had been accustomed too. So they either had to ship at a lighter draft or not ship at all.
Q: Was this alternate route substantially opened after the hurricane or was it as much impacted as the Mississippi side?
CDR Little: Katrina hit east of Houma and over through Mobile and so there wasn’t that much impact from Morgan City west after Katrina.
CDR Little: So traffic could have moved pretty freely. Now once Rita hit then these closures here that you’re seeing . . . .
Q: So this would have been fairly stable after Katrina?
CDR Little: Yes, it was.
Q: And so I assume that a lot of the response mode that you were in after Katrina was applied immediately to getting ready for Rita.
CDR Little: Yes, but here in Morgan City where they were staged out of, all of this area flooded so they had to pull back; the Aids to Navigation units had to pull back.
Q: They were staging out of Morgan City to respond to stuff east and they got whacked on the west side.
LT Posey: Exactly.
CDR Little: Well they saw it coming so they moved.
LT Posey: The units; they put their boats on trailers and moved north. The Aids to Navigation Teams in Texas, again, put everything they could on trailers and moved north.
CDR Little: One of the reasons that this waterway is closed right now, to give you an example of the impact, is not necessarily due to obstructions or maybe even bridges being down, but if tug barge traffic transits in here they will create wakes and that wake will then flood the homes that are already precariously in high water. So they don’t want wake activity and a lot of surge activity in those waterways.
Q: Is this an embanked channel or is it just like a channel cut through a swampland?
LT Posey: Yes, this channel is literally cut through a swampland and right now the Parishes have asked the Captain of the Port to close the Inter-Coastal Waterway to keep the traffic from moving through there.
Q: For that reason?
LT Posey: For that reason; to keep the wakes down and keep the water from moving in. When the water recedes they’ll start moving traffic again. There are some problems over at the Leland Bowman Locks in this area. The locks were flooded over the top of the locks. Their machinery’s impacted.
Q: By Rita.
LT Posey: By Rita, and they haven’t had a chance to get in there.
Q: Has this whole route been surveyed to see if the ATONs are in place and all that? Has that assessment been done since Rita passed through?
CDR Little: It is being done from Brownsville up. This was really Katrina and this was Rita and the surveys are ongoing right now.
Q: You mentioned the river boats north of say Baton Rouge in responding to ATONs. What about this Gulf Inter-Coastal Waterway, if you need to reset buoys there, who does it; are those done by buoy tenders or are they done by riverboats?
LT Posey: They’re done by construction tenders, by WLICs.
Q: Those are Coast Guard vessels?
LT Posey: Those are Coast Guard vessels. They’re inland construction tenders.
Q: Sort of specifically tailored to that environment; that kind of swamp channel environment.
LT Posey: Well they’re tug and barge. Some of them are tug and barge combinations and we do have a relatively newer class; the Pamlico, Saginaw, Hudson and the Kennebec out at Portsmouth here; composite units. They carry an Ocean Master Crane on them and their specialty is rebuilding aids to navigation. They carry a pile driver. They build and fix aids to navigation; lights, range structures . . . .
CDR Little: Their drafts are limited. It’s anywhere between five and seven feet so they’ve got some room to get into some of these shallow areas.
Q: But if dredging needs to be done and that’s done by the Corp of Engineers or by a contractor, then the Coast Guard would come in and reset whatever navigation aids needed to be reset.
CDR Little: The other alternative up here, again with tug barge traffic in the western rivers, is the Tennessee-Tombigbee. Again, those barges . . . these companies do this for a living so they know that when they see the flooding, which is a current sent here, they know about it. They might reroute their traffic up the Ohio at Memphis or Paducah and then down to Tennessee to just south of Pickwick and then down to Tennessee-Tombigbee, which dumps into the Gulf in Mobile. So there are alternative routes around.
LT Posey: Along those same lines when the Mississippi was closed, shipping companies were making determinations to send their ships to other facilities.
Q: And did you interface with them at all to say, “We recommend that you do this, that, or the other”, or is that pretty much left to them what they want to do?
LT Posey: The Captain of the Port will let them know what the status of the ports are.
Q: And that’s up to them where they’re going to send them.
CDR Little: Just like right now, post-Rita. This is one of the most important slides in the mix is because it is a good snapshot on what ports are opened to what depth versus project depth, and then possibly a forecast on when they will be reopened and where the cutters are that are going to be key in reopening those; whether it’s the construction tenders or the ANTs or the buoy tenders.
Q: So I guess what you’re saying Sir is that they can look at this slide and say, “Another 20 cents a gallon, another 30 cents a gallon [chuckle].”
CDR Little: Well one of the things we can certainly do is breath a deep sigh of relief that Houston is yellow and not red.
CDR Little: Or it would be dollars versus cents.
Q: Maybe 20 cents less a gallon because that’s yellow and not red or something like that.
Did these two events coming in tandem the way they did provide you with a window into technology, policy, anything like that that you see would be valuable in responding or planning for future or similar events?
LT Posey: When I was in St. Louis communication with our cutters was difficult. We have come to rely on cell phones, which is a great advent because you can pick it up and you can talk to the CO.
Q: So you actually have the number of the CO of a cutter and can call him up and say . . . and don’t have to go through 14 different communication steps before you get to him.
LT Posey: Exactly, but after Hurricane Katrina cell phone communications were limited because the cell towers were down. You had difficulties calling people with a 504 area code on a cell phone. Yes, they could call you if they were near a cell tower outside of 504 but you couldn’t call into 504.
We found that the ships that had SAT phones, we were able to communicate with them. In fact one CO on the Harry Claiborne came up with a way to use his SAT phone to transmit Word documents, so he would email us in St. Louis his messages through his SAT phone in a Word document. We would take his Word document, put it into a message and then I would release the message for the ships that were operating locally, and that was a work around that he and his crew came up with on his ship and that was a 175 buoy tender. Our construction tenders didn’t have that technology. They didn’t have SAT phones.
Q: Would you recommend that they get it?
LT Posey: Absolutely. A cell phone in this sort of disaster doesn’t make it because cell phone towers can’t be relied on. Literally if it snows here in Portsmouth and I’m trying to drive home and pick up my cell phone, it doesn’t work because the cells are too crowded with people on their cell phones. So the advent of SAT phones is necessary for communications. Our small cutters; 175s, our construction tenders and river tenders don’t have underway connectivity. They don’t have message traffic. They don’t have email. They don’t have communication systems that we can readily talk to them. We sent some of these cutters to some areas . . .
Q: They’re on their own.
LT Posey: . . . and we knew they were working and they could talk to the helicopters flying over.
CDR Little: Their VHF can be used.
LT Posey: But that was very limited also because all the VHF towers were down.
Q: It’s like 9/11 never happened.
CDR Little: Well the other thing this showed us too was the importance that these smaller construction tenders, smaller buoy tenders; the unsung heroes are these construction teams or the ANTs; the Aids to Navigation Teams, and they’re working in punts as small as 16 to 18 feet and as large as 55 feet, and these things have amazing lift capability and flexibility to get into a variety of different channels quickly but they’re aging. And again, as we have shifted priorities under Homeland Security our legacy mission such as Aids to Navigation have not been getting the funding attention that some of our more visible programs have been. And Ward can certainly attest to this having served on them in a senior command capacity and having lived in New Orleans, some of our construction tenders are 50 years old and there is no plan to replace them and there is nothing else, except contract.
LT Posey: The Aids to Navigation fleet is a variety of vessels for a very specific reason. We have seagoing buoy tenders to work the big buoys. We have WLMs to work the inshore channels. We have construction tenders to build and fixed Aids to Navigation. We have river tenders to tend buoys on the western river system, which the Coast Guard is responsible for all of that.
We had one construction tender that couldn’t get into the game because they had major casualty on one of their main diesel engines. I’m trying to find out . . . I think they’re on their way right now on one engine. We had another construction tender that lost a generator down in Houston. They’ve been borrowing portable generators. So what they’ll do is they’ll rent a portable generator and put it on the construction tenders’ deck so they can still steam with two generators and continue working.
CDR Little: The larger buoy tenders are new and they are some of the newest cutters in the Coast Guard’s fleet and they’ve really proved their efficiency in speed and efficiencies at bridge navigation; amazing technology. They’ve certainly pulled their weight and proven their worth here in these responses but we still have an aging fleet out there.
Q: Why were the river tenders forgotten when they upgraded the seagoing buoy tenders?
CDR Little: Well I’m not sure that they’ve been forgotten. There are certainly programs in place at Headquarters that are trying to give them the attention for mid-lifing and just like some of the other cutters out there, they are overseen by a Program Manager. They have a Program Manager at Headquarters that is pushing them to be mid-lifed and overhauled and it just hasn’t gotten the attention right now up to this point. But this may change things because they’ve certainly proved their worth and they’re, as we’re testifying too, I mean they were working around some of their problems to be in the game, to pull their weight and then some. These crews work hard.
Q: If you could suggest one change out of this or two changes or whatever changes out of this situation, what would they be?
CDR Little: Well I think it would be that. Again, make that a priority; make that ATON modernization project getting these construction tenders and smaller Coast Guard cutters and Aids to Navigation boats the attention they deserve, get those priorities for overhaul or replaced. That would certainly be one thing.
The other would be to identify a funding mechanism for the equipment that is needed. Millions and millions of dollars worth of ATON equipment have been forwarded to these areas, and again, these storms happen to occur at the end of the fiscal year and so we were closing out budgets and didn’t have a lot of money, if you will, to purchase equipment and get buoys overhauled and so forth. And you might have seen FEMA’s response to buoy tending support. They actually pulled it. We originally were given a FEMA funding string for which we could apply Aids to Navigation hardware for shipping equipment, for purchasing equipment, fabricating equipment; Dayboards and stands and pilings, if you will, and FEMA pulled that funding from us.
Q: Was there a reason they gave for that?
CDR Little: They said it was a mission that we have historically done and therefore we weren’t going to be reimbursed for it. So now we’ve had to really go into our own pocket for that and spent an awful lot of money. So we’re counting real hard to make sure that we do it right and get it reimbursed to us but it will cost millions.
LT Posey: It was extremely frustrating in St. Louis when the hurricane was coming, they gave us one set of accounting data and then after it hit, FEMA said, “You use this accounting data.” The Coast Guard said, “Okay, use this accounting data”, and then, “Well okay, you can’t use that. You need to use these MLC numbers: HK ATON.” “Okay, well you can’t use that now. Go back to using your own numbers and put in the Katrina’s numbering.” And that was extremely frustrating because every time you went to order something, trying to find a new number, and I mean is the money really there to purchase this? I mean before I give orders that, you know, “Is there money for this?” You know nobody could answer that question but it was extremely frustrating.
Communications; I think satellite communications . . . you know the Coast Guard has been working on small cutter connectivity for seven to ten years. We don’t have it yet. Yachts out here have it but we don’t have it.
LT Posey: And then again, to reiterate what the Commander was saying, our construction tenders and our river tenders are in dyer straits of needing mid life over hauls. Its way past their midlife so they’re at the end of their service life.
We have four Pamlico class construction tenders that were well designed, built in the 70s, that are aging now but they’re a lot younger than our other construction tenders. They are very good platforms that could be used as a guide for new platforms. The 8th District has gone from eight construction tenders down to five over the years partly due to they’ve converted one to a river tender but also because of downsizing in funds.
Q: How much of that is part of the consolidation of the 2nd District into the 8th District, or is it? Is that District just too big and should be broken out again on the western rivers? I mean it sounds to me like the western river men could make a case that they’re being abandoned by the Coast Guard.
LT Posey: I was in the 2nd District at one time. I was on a river tender and served at the 2nd District office. I don’t know but I will tell you that the 8th District, just the Aids to Navigation Branch, has a lot of ground to cover. They are responsible for a lot ships, a lot of people and a lot of equipment.
CDR Little: To give it a lot of attention and they work hard to oversee them. That is one of the hardest working District OAN staffs that you will find.
Q: They go from the Gulf of Mexico to North Dakota.
CDR Little: That’s right, their responsibility is enormous. And like us, we have the second most number . . . D-5 has the second most number of Aids to D-8. So we have nearly 7,000 federal aids in our arsenal and they have well over 8,500. But like us, they are the only District that has a prone to hurricanes and ice, so two major impacts of Mother Nature.
LT Posey: In addition the floods on the western rivers will wipe out a buoy system in a week.
Q: How many of those 8,500 in D-8 would be, say river ATONs and how many would be sea ATONs, do we have any rough idea?
LT Posey: I don’t.
CDR Little: Because again, Inter-Coastal is a crossing.
Q: It crosses between it, okay.
CDR Little: In the sense of structures.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add Sir?
CDR Little: No.
Q: This has been extraordinary. Yes, this is fascinating. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it. You guys have your hands full.
CDR Little: Well I tell you, as we said, the answer here is with these ANTs, and obviously all of the Coast Guard has done well but the ANT teams and the construction tenders and the crews . . . and the 7th District was really joining on the spot with a lot of backfill from not only cutters but ANT teams. We did a lot of staging of . . . every District surveyed their various OAN programs to determine Tiger Teams that could be in the cue and be responsive to their needs but D-7 launched right away because they really have it down there and not only did they send equipment but they sent people right behind it.
LT Posey: One thing we didn’t comment on was the cutter Hudson out of Miami. It transited over and they’re still over working in the Mobile area. They’ll be Aids to Navigation problems in D7 if the Hudson is gone very long, so now the Area must work out a deal and decide which district needs the Hudson more urgently.
CDR Little: That’s the first time that cutter’s ever gone north of St. Petersburg.
LT Posey: And again, that’s one of the newer WLICs; the Pamlico class, and they can transit offshore a lot easier than your tug and barge construction tenders, and they can also work in a larger sea.
Q: Commander Sir, thank you so much for your time.
CDR Little: Okay.
Q: I appreciate it. Lieutenant, I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
END OF INTERVIEW