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Remarks at NOAA ARRA Marine Navigation Projects Announcement, Norfolk, Virginia


Thursday, August 20, 2009



Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at NOAA ARRA Marine Navigation Projects Announcement
Norfolk, Virginia

Thank you for that kind introduction.

As some of you may know, before coming to Washington D.C., to serve as Commerce Secretary, I served the great state of Washington for two terms as governor.

Coastal states—even those that are more than 3,000 miles apart—share a profound understanding of the ocean’s role as a gateway to economic prosperity.

That’s why I am so pleased to announce that as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, President Obama has instructed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to disburse $40 million for vital hydrographic surveys and charts that will help create safe, reliable ocean charts. These funds will be spent on projects in seven states, including two right here in Virginia that will inject $8.4 million into the local economy.

With an eye towards growing America’s sea freight industry and creating new blue jobs in the future, these funds will pay for NOAA to conduct 39 surveys; charting nearly 2,000 square nautical miles in the Chesapeake Bay, and in the coastal waters of Alaska, Washington, California, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Virginia.

Using the latest technologies, surveyors will map the sea floor, measure the water depth, search the ocean for storm debris or accident wreckage and record the natural features of coastal seabeds and fragile aquatic life.

This investment is critical.

We have better maps of the moon than our oceans.

Meanwhile, our waterways are facing unprecedented demands from international commerce.

Across our country, ocean transportation already contributes more than $742 billion to the national economy and provides employment for more than 13 million people.

But much of our knowledge of our seafloors dates from eras when ocean commerce was more limited, when our ships were much smaller. It has been said that parts of Alaska’s coastal terrain haven’t been mapped since Captain Cook.

Unmapped areas can be fraught with danger. Hidden rocky underwater terrain can seriously damage ships and cargo, cause oil spills—polluting our oceans—and put our sailors in harms way. While ships have sonar, they can’t simply turn on a dime.

And the activity in our oceans is only going to grow in the years ahead.

Every day, U.S. ports handle more than 9 million barrels of imported oil. By the year 2020, we expect that the value of all freight coming through U.S. ports will increase by more than 40 percent.

If international freight entering our ports increases by merely 3 percent, it will mean that an additional 1 million containers will come into our country annually by the year 2014.

Our ports need to grow bigger to accommodate the bigger ships and the busier waterways that we know our future economy will require.

Here in Virginia, $4.3 million dollars of Recovery Act money will pay to chart 125 square nautical miles in the Southern Chesapeake Bay, an area of increased commercial and recreational boating. Another $4.1 million of Recovery Act money will enable the first nautical survey since the Great Depression, of 219 square nautical miles of Virginia’s heavily used coastal shipping lanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

The information we gather hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface today will provide us with the data we’ll use to balance the needs of a fragile ecosystem with the competing demands for coastal ocean space for navigation, alternative energy and other commercial purposes.

And when we chart our coastal seafloors for the most up-to-date information, ports and our shippers can use that knowledge to increase efficiency and safety.

Being here today in Virginia, I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson. In 1807, President Jefferson founded a small federal agency and tasked it with creating maps of the nation’s coastal waters so the engine of foreign trade, the U.S. shipping industry, could thrive.

Today, those duties are located in NOAA—and America’s coastal waters remain every bit as central to our prosperity as they were 200 years ago.

We need to protect them and preserve them for current and future generations of Americans. The projects I announced today will put people to work doing just that.

Thank you.