Notice to Navigators: All Basins

Waterways Commerce Cutter Acquisition Program;
Preparation of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement


Notice Number: 2021-20749

Date: Comments and related material must be post-marked or received by the Coast Guard on or before November 8, 2021.


Notice of Availability of a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement; request for comments.

The United States Coast Guard (Coast Guard), as the lead agency, announces the availability of the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) Program's acquisition and operation of a planned 30 WCCs. This PEIS is being prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; and the regulations implemented by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The Coast Guard has determined that a PEIS is the most appropriate type of NEPA document for this action because of the scope and complexity of the proposed acquisition and operation of a planned 30 WCCs. This notice of availability (NOA) announces the start of the public review and comment period on this PEIS. After the Coast Guard addresses comments provided, Coast Guard will publish a final PEIS.


Obtaining Documents: You may access the Draft PEIS from the Coast Guard Office of Environmental Management web page at​Our-Organization/​Assistant-Commandant-for-Engineering-Logistics-CG-4-/​Program-Offices/​Environmental-Management/​Environmental-Planning-and-Historic-Preservation/​.


Submitting Comments: You may submit comments on the Draft PEIS by one of the following methods:


Via the Web: You may submit comments identified by docket number USCG-2021-0191 using the Federal eRulemaking Portal at See the “Public Scoping Process” portion of the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section for further instructions on submitting comments.


Via U.S. Mail: U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, ATTN: LCDR S. Krolman (CG-9327), 2703 Martin Luther King Jr Ave. SE, Stop 7800, Washington DC 20593. Please note that mailed comments must be postmarked on or before the comment deadline of 45 days following publication of this notice to be considered.


Before including your address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

For information about this document, email


This NOA briefly summarizes the proposed project, including the purpose and need and reasonable alternatives. As required by NEPA and CEQ implementing regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508, specifically § 1502.3), a Federal agency must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) if it is proposing a major Federal action to analyze the environmental consequences of implementing each of the alternatives, if carried forward for full review following public scoping, by assessing the effects of each alternative on the natural and human environment. The Coast Guard Start Printed Page 53087 has determined that a PEIS is the most appropriate type of EIS for this action because of the scope and complexity of the proposed acquisition and operation of a planned 30 WCCs.


The Coast Guard has a statutory mission to establish, maintain, and operate aids to navigation (ATON) in the Inland Waterways and Western Rivers (IW&WR). The IW&WR includes the Gulf and Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW); the Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Columbia, and Ohio Rivers, their associated tributaries and other connecting waterways; portions of the Alaska Inside Passage; portions of the Great Lakes; and several other navigable waterways around the United States. The 35 cutters and associated 27 barges that comprise the existing inland tender fleet servicing the IW&WR are, on average, more than 54 years old and all have significantly exceeded their design service life of 30 years. There is no redundant vessel capability within the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or other government agencies. Without replacement of the existing inland tender fleet, the Coast Guard could face an increasing risk of failure to maintain the capability to execute its ATON mission and provide timely ATON services in the IW&WR and other navigable waters around the United States.


Due to obsolescence, hull limitations, and asset age, service life extension and modernization efforts are increasingly difficult, expensive to maintain, and cannot be justified. To maintain the Coast Guard's vital inland waterways mission and continue to provide a consistent and reliable presence in the IW&WR, the Coast Guard is proposing to replace the existing aging inland tender fleet. WCCs would be designed to replace the capabilities of the existing inland tender fleet; therefore, the purpose of the Proposed Action is the acquisition and operation of up to 30 WCCs to replace the capabilities of the existing inland tender fleet, thereby enabling the safe navigation of waters that support the nation's economy through maritime commerce throughout the Marine Transportation System.


Coast Guard has identified and analyzed three action alternatives and the No Action Alternative in this PEIS for public review and comment.


Proposed Action (Alternative 1, Preferred Alternative): Under the Proposed Action, the Coast Guard would acquire and operate a planned 30 WCCs with design lives of 30 years to fulfill Aids to Navigation (ATON) mission requirements in the proposed action areas in IW&WR, portions of the Alaska Inside Passage; portions of the Great Lakes, and several other navigable waterways around the United States.


Similar to the existing inland tender fleet's operations, Alternative 1 would include vessel operations to establish, operate, and maintain the lighted and unlighted buoys and beacons to maintain the United States Visual ATON System. This mission contributes to protecting national interests by ensuring safe and efficient flow of commercial vessel traffic through our nation's waters. Although it is expected that the WCCs, similar to the existing inland tender fleet, would be capable of performing non-ATON missions such as Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security; Search and Rescue; Marine Environmental Protection; and Marine Safety, their primary focus would be on the ATON mission.


Full operational capability would be achieved when all planned WCCs have been produced and are operational. Coast Guard WCC operations and training would occur after delivery of each WCC from the shipbuilder to the Coast Guard. For example, the first WCC delivery to the Coast Guard is expected in 2024 and the cutter would then be operational in 2025. The last WCC is expected to be delivered and operational in 2032.


The Proposed Action would include WCC operation, maintenance, and commissioning of up to 11 WCC construction class (WLIC) tenders to replace the existing capabilities of 13 inland construction tenders; up to 16 River Buoy class (WLR) tenders to replace the capabilities of the river buoy tenders; and up to three Inland Buoy class (WLI) tenders to replace the capabilities of the inland buoy tenders. Although there are three classes proposed and design specifications are not final, the design would maximize commonality between the three classes to reduce sustainment costs, training needs, and other associated requirements.


The WLIC would be specifically designed for establishing and replacing fixed ATON and would be equipped with impact and vibratory pile driving and extraction equipment and spuds. The WLR and WLI would have capability to deploy and retrieve buoy mooring equipment from the seabed or riverbed using a water jet system that would also be equipped to move buoys, and move and recover sinkers, chain, wire rope, synthetic rope, and other materials without a crane.


All WCCs would have the ability to tow one vessel (of equivalent displacement) in either a side tow or stern tow. Each WCC would also have the capability to be towed by the bow, pushed ahead from the stern, and towed alongside from either port or starboard. Vessels would be towed according to specifications in the Cutter Towing Operations Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (CGTTP 3-91.15 issued March 2017). All WCCs would also recover stray, stranded, and scrap buoys.


Vessel performance testing for a WCC would be similar to testing conducted for the existing inland tender fleet. Scheduled maintenance would likely occur within close proximity to each WCC's homeport; however, the exact locations of all the homeports for all WCCs are not known at this time.


Alternative 2, Reduced Acquisition of Coast Guard Owned and Operated Systems: The Coast Guard would explore hybrid government and contracted options for mission performance. Ship platforms would meet similar technical specifications discussed in Alternative 1. Potential scenarios could include: Contractor-owned (commercial entity funds ship construction, overhaul and maintenance) and government-operated (Coast Guard provides the personnel); government-owned (government funds ship construction, overhaul and maintenance) and contractor-operated (a commercial operating company provides the crew); or contractor-owned and contractor-operated systems (Coast Guard provides neither platforms nor personnel). Operations and training using WCCs acquired under Alternative 2 are the same as for Alternative 1.


Alternative 3, Mixed Fleet: The mixed fleet solution would be a combination of cutters and shore-based assets (including ATON team units), electronic ATON, and contracted ATON services. To accomplish a mixed fleet solution, additional Coast Guard ATON personnel and teams would be required. To accommodate the additional ATON teams, existing facilities would require expansion and construction of new shore based facilities could be necessary. Use of electronic ATON instead of physical ATON could also prove necessary. Operations and training using WCCs acquired under Alternative 2 are the same as for Alternative 1.


No Action Alternative: The evaluation of a No Action Alternative is required by the regulations implementing NEPA. Under the No Action Alternative, the Start Printed Page 53088 Coast Guard would fulfill its statutory missions in the IW&WR using the existing inland tender fleet. The existing assets would continue to age, causing a decrease in efficiency of machinery as well as an increased risk of equipment failure or damage, and would not be considered reliable for immediate emergency response. In addition, it would become more difficult for an ageing fleet to remain in compliance with environmental laws and regulations and standards for safe operation. Further Service Life Extensions become more challenging as significant systems and parts are no longer available, which requires contracting for systems or parts to be made specifically for the vessel.


While the Coast Guard must work toward environmental compliance during the design and acquisition of WCCs, each vessel is not expected to impact the environment (biological, physical, or socioeconomic resources) until it is operational and no significant impacts are expected after vessels are operational. In addition, vessel construction in commercial shipyards is not expected to impact any physical or biological resources.


Although the total number of WCCs may be subject to change and all three action alternatives being considered would all reduce the size of the overall fleet, Congressional Authorization is for no more than 30. As such, the PEIS analyzes the potential impact of the range of a planned 30 WCCs, as this would be the highest number projected to be operational in the Coast Guard's proposed action areas. Acoustic and physical stressors associated with the Proposed Action may potentially impact the physical and biological environment in the proposed action areas. Potential acoustic stressors include: The fathometer and Doppler speed log (navigation system), vessel noise, ATON signal noise, tool noise, and pile driving noise. Potential physical stressors include: Vessel movement, bottom disturbance, ground disturbance (removal of brush), pile driving, unrecovered jet cone moorings, and ATON retrieval devices and tow lines.


Since the WCC fleet would service a broad geographic area, stressors associated with the Proposed Action are assessed to determine if they potentially impact physical resources (including air quality, ambient sound, bottom habitat and sediments, and water quality), biological resources (including critical habitat), and socioeconomic resources.


The PEIS evaluates the likelihood that a resource would be exposed to or encounter a stressor and identifies the impact associated with that exposure or encounter. The likelihood of an exposure or encounter is based on the stressor, location, and timing relative to the spatial and temporal distribution each biological resource or critical habitat. No significant impacts to environmental resources were identified.


Documents mentioned in this Notice of Availability as being available in the docket, and posted public comments, will be in the online docket at


Federal Register :: Waterways Commerce Cutter Acquisition Program; Preparation of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement