[Federal Register Volume 70, Number 75 (Wednesday, April 20, 2005)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 20471-20473]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 05-7894]


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DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

Coast Guard

33 CFR Part 162

[CGD17-99-002]
RIN 1625-AA23 (Formerly RIN 2115-AF81)


Anchorage Ground; Safety Zone; Speed Limit; Tongass Narrows and 
Ketchikan, AK

AGENCY: Coast Guard, DHS.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: This final rule adopts, without changes, the interim rule 
published on April 7, 2000, which changed the speed limit in Tongass 
Narrows. This final rule extends the speed limit area northward in 
Tongass Narrows to Channel Island, allows the take-off and landing of 
floatplanes, and allows smaller vessels to transit crowded areas to 
Tongass Narrows more quickly, relieving congestion. This final rule 
also re-designates the safety zone in Ketchikan Harbor as an anchorage 
ground. Vessels transiting the anchorage ground, other than those 
engaged in anchoring evolutions are required to proceed through the 
anchorage by the most direct route without delay or sudden course 
change. The new rule makes the final approach, anchoring, and departure 
of very large passenger vessels, safer for the vessels involved.

DATES: This rule is effective May 20, 2005.

ADDRESSES: Comments and material received from the public, as well as 
documents indicated in this preamble as being available in the docket, 
are part of the docket and are available for inspection or copying at 
U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office, Juneau, Alaska, telephone 907-
463-2470, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, except 
Federal holidays.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: LT Gary Koehler, Chief of Port 
Operations, Marine Safety Office, Juneau, Alaska, 907-463-2470.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Regulatory History

    On March 25, 1999, the Coast Guard published a Notice of Proposed 
Rulemaking (NPRM) entitled ``Anchorage ground, safety zone, speed 
limit, Tongass Narrows and Ketchikan, AK'' in the Federal Register (64 
FR 14414). The Coast Guard received 8 letters, including two petitions, 
regarding the proposed rule during a 45-day comment period. A public 
hearing was held on March 26th at the Ted Ferry Civic Center in 
Ketchikan, AK.
    On June 1, 1999 an interim rule was published entitled ``Anchorage 
Ground, Safety Zone, Speed Limit, Tongass Narrows and Ketchikan, AK'' 
in the Federal Register (64 FR 29554). A correction was issued on June 
15, 1999 in the Federal Register (64 FR 32103).
    On April 7, 2000 a revised interim rule was published entitled 
``Anchorage Ground, Safety Zone, Speed Limit, Tongass Narrows and 
Ketchikan, AK'' in Federal Register (65 FR 18242). On October 21, 2003 
a Notice to Reopen Comment Period was published in the Federal Register 
(68 FR 60034).

Background and Purpose

    During 1999 and 2000 the Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation 
Administration held a series of public meetings in Ketchikan, Alaska, 
to assess maritime traffic, congestion, safety, and wake concerns in 
Tongass Narrows. The individuals and groups represented at these 
meetings included recreational vessel operators, passenger vessel 
operators, commercial fishing vessel operators, commercial kayak 
operators, floatplane operators, charter vessel operators, and local 
residents.
    The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposed changes to the seven-
knot speed limit on Tongass Narrows. The existing speed limit did not 
address the needs of floatplane traffic, may have unnecessarily slowed 
the transits of smaller vessels, and did not apply in the northern 
portions of Tongass Narrows where traffic congestion and wake from 
larger vessels had become a concern. The proposed changes extended the 
speed zone northward to Channel Island, but exempted vessels of 26 feet 
or less in length.
    The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also proposed to re-designate the 
safety

[[Page 20472]]

zone in Ketchikan Harbor as an anchorage ground. Vessels transiting the 
anchorage ground other than those engaged in anchoring evolutions would 
be required to proceed through the anchorage by the most direct route 
without delay or sudden course changes. The re-designation of the area 
would reflect its actual use as an anchorage for large passenger 
vessels. The slow or erratic operation of small vessels in the former 
safety zone has made it very difficult for large vessels to safely 
maneuver to and from anchor. The requirement that transiting vessels 
proceed through the anchorage directly, without delay or sudden course 
changes, would make the final approach, anchoring, and departure of 
very large passenger vessels, safer for the vessels involved.
    The interim rule published in 1999 revised the safety zone in 
Ketchikan Harbor as well as the 7-knot speed limit in Tongass Narrows. 
It re-designated the safety zone in Ketchikan Harbor as an anchorage 
ground and required transiting vessels, other than those engaged in 
anchoring evolutions, to proceed through the anchorage by the most 
direct route without delay or sudden course changes.
    The interim rule published in 2000 revised the published 1999 
interim rule by extending the speed limit exemption to include all 
small vessels of 23 feet or less, registered length. This change 
allowed an increased number of small vessels that create little wake to 
transit crowded areas of Tongass Narrows more quickly, thereby 
relieving congestion.

Discussion of Comments and Changes

    The Coast Guard received comments from 21 persons regarding the 
1999 interim rule. The comments included oral comments made at the 
August 27th, 1999 public meeting and four letters. No comments were 
received concerning the anchorage area and this portion of the interim 
rule remains unchanged. Numerous comments criticized the speed limit 
exemption for being unnecessarily restrictive. Responses to these 
comments on the 1999 interim rule are discussed in the following 
paragraphs.
    The most frequent comments addressed the exemption for ``non-
commercial open skiffs.'' Of the 21 persons that commented on the 1999 
interim rule (several persons commented on multiple aspects), 10 
commented on this exemption, stating that the term ``non-commercial, 
open skiff'' created confusion as to when a vessel was considered 
``open'' vice enclosed. The Coast Guard agreed and the term ``non-
commercial, open skiff'' was removed.
    Nine comments were received concerning the vessel length exemption 
from the 7-knot speed limit based on vessel length of less than 20 
feet. Seven of the comments favored increasing the size of vessels 
exempted to 26 feet and one favored increasing the size to 25 feet. Two 
comments favored keeping the size of vessel exempted from the 7-knot 
speed limit at 20 feet or less. Additionally, five comments favored an 
exemption for non-displacement hull vessels. The Coast Guard agreed 
that the 20-foot vessel length exemption could be increased without 
adversely affecting the safety of the waterway and without causing a 
significant increase in vessel wakes. However, numerous comments that 
were received as a result of the notice of proposed rulemaking 
concerned the impact of any rule that split the charter fishing vessel 
fleet. Commenters were concerned that such a split would provide an 
unfair economic advantage to certain portions of the charter fishing 
vessel fleet. According to data obtained by the Coast Guard from the 
State of Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, there are 167 
charter vessels that routinely operate in and around Tongass Narrows. 
This data, which is depicted in the following table, indicates:

 Table 1.--Numbers of Charter Vessels That Routinely Operate on Tongass
                                 Narrows
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                                                Percent of
          Size of charter/  vessels               No. of      Total No.
                                                 vessels
------------------------------------------------------------------------
20 feet......................................           15           9
21-23 feet...................................           12           7.2
24-25 feet...................................           18          10.8
26 feet......................................          122          73
------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Note: This table reflects the adjusted number of charter vessels 
that are registered as operating on Tongass Narrows. The numbers 
have been adjusted to remove those vessels that are home ported in 
areas other than Ketchikan or Metlakatla or that are located at 
outlying lodges and could not reasonably be expected to participate 
in the daily charters out of Tongass Narrows (i.e. vessels home 
ported in Craig, AK or operating out of Yes Bay Lodge, etc.) that 
the length limit for vessels exempted from the seven knot speed 
limit could be set at 23 feet with the expectation that any economic 
impacts to the charter fleet would be minimal due to the small 
number of additional (12) charter vessels exempted from this 
regulation. The Coast Guard disagreed with the five comments 
favoring exemption for planning hull vessels from the seven-knot 
speed limit. An exemption based on hull type would be very difficult 
to enforce due to the variety of hull types and nomenclature and 
possible confusion within the maritime community. For this reason, 
an exemption based on hull type was not instituted. Three persons 
commented on the southern boundaries of the seven-knot speed limit. 
One comment stated that the eastern channel boundary should be 
extended to the south to the Saxman City breakwater. Two persons 
commented that the western channel boundary should be moved to the 
south, away from the cable crossing area. The Coast Guard disagreed 
that the eastern channel boundary should be extended. The eastern 
channel boundary was moved north in the 1999 interim rule in an 
effort to minimize the size of the seven-knot zone without 
increasing the impacts caused by vessel wakes to private property. 
Vessel transit time for vessels using the east channel has been 
reduced and there were no reports of wake damage to private property 
located along the waterway in the east channel. Therefore the 
eastern channel boundary remained unchanged.


    One comment noted that the regulatory marker in the western channel 
should be located outside the cable crossing area. The published 
position of the western channel regulatory marker is outside of the 
charted cable crossing area. The buoy tender that services this buoy 
has checked the actual location of the regulatory marker. Two comments 
were received that favored extending the northern boundary of the 
seven-knot speed zone northward to Channel Island as a way to control 
wake damage to private and commercial property caused by large vessels 
transiting this area. The Coast Guard disagreed that the boundary 
should be extended any further than Tongass Narrows Buoy 9. The 
overwhelming majority of 129 comments received in 1998 favored a slight 
extension of the 7-knot speed limit zone but these comments did not 
support extending the zone as far north as Channel Island. In light of 
all comments received, the Coast Guard believed that the present 
northerly boundary of the 7-knot speed limit zone, located at Tongass 
Narrows Buoy 9, is appropriate and made no changes.
    Two comments were received on making the speed limit seasonal to 
align with the summer tourist season. One facility operator stated that 
if the rule were made seasonal, it would increase the risk of a large 
wake parting a line on an oil barge during transfer operations, thereby 
potentially increasing the chances of an oil spill. During the entire 
rule making process, the majority of the comments favored the existence 
of the year round 7-knot rule. The consensus expressed was that if the 
7-knot speed limit were seasonal, the risk on the waterway would not be 
reduced in the

[[Page 20473]]

off months and the amount of wake damage to private and commercial 
property on Tongass Narrows would most likely increase. The Coast Guard 
agreed that the rule should apply year around and made no changes.
    One comment favored the creation of a high-speed traffic corridor 
through the middle of the waterway. Other commenters felt that creating 
a high-speed corridor would unreasonably increase the risk to vessels 
operating on Tongass Narrows. This proposal was not adopted. No 
comments were received concerning the 2000 interim rule, which revised 
the 1999 interim rule to reflect the above comments.

Discussion of the Change to the Final Rule

    Since no comments were received concerning the proposed revisions 
to the 1999 interim rule as contained in the 2000 revised interim rule, 
the final rule shall adopt the language contained in the 2000 revised 
interim rule. By exempting ``vessels of 23 feet registered length or 
less,'' the traffic congestion in the affected areas of Tongass Narrows 
should be eased and the safety of the small vessel operators enhanced. 
With the exemption for these small vessels, they will be able to depart 
from, or transit through the congested areas more quickly. This in turn 
should ease congestion and reduce navigational conflicts that have 
arisen between slow moving small boats and cruise ships and other large 
waterway users and will allow them to spend less time on the water 
during periods of inclement weather. Large wakes should not become a 
problem as the exemption is still limited to smaller vessels and 
because Tongass Narrows regularly experiences substantial wave action 
that is equivalent to the wake from these smaller vessels. The impacts 
to the charter fleet are considered minimal because the revised interim 
rule exempts only 12 of 152 charter vessels that are over 20 feet in 
length. The finale rule retains the 7-knot speed limit for all other 
vessels except floatplanes and public law enforcement and emergency 
response vessels.

Regulatory Evaluation

    The analysis we conducted in connection with the interim rule 
remains unchanged, and the Analysis Documentation prepared for the 
interim rule remains in the docket. This Final Rule is not a 
``significant regulatory action'' under section 3(f) of Executive Order 
12866, Regulatory Planning and Review, and does not require an 
assessment of potential costs and benefits under section 6(a)(3) of 
that Order. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not reviewed 
it under that Order. It is not ``significant'' under the regulatory 
policies and procedures of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 
Please consult the Regulatory Evaluation provided in the interim rule 
for further information.

List of Subjects in 33 CFR Part 162

    Navigation (water), Waterways.


0
For the reasons discussed in the preamble, the Coast Guard adopts as 
final without further change the Interim Rule published on June 2, 1999 
(64 FR 29554), and corrected on June 15, 1999 (64 FR 32103), and 
further revised on April 7, 2000 (65 FR 18242).

    Dated: April 5, 2005.
David W. Ryan,
Captain, U.S. Coast Guard, Commander, Seventeenth Coast Guard District, 
Acting.
[FR Doc. 05-7894 Filed 4-19-05; 8:45 am]
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