Today the Coast Guard published a temporary final rule in the Federal Register (78 FR 261-263) concerning the establishment of moving security zones around certain types of vessels navigating a specific 18 mile stretch of the lower Mississippi River from January 1st (oops that was two days ago) thru March 31st, 2013. Now, ‘moving security zones’ are not unusual; they are a very common way for establishing a security ‘perimeter’ around a high-risk vessel, but this rule seems to be a little bit odd.
According to the summary the moving security zones would be required to protect vessels “deemed to be in need of escort protection by the COTP New Orleans for security reasons” (78 FR 261). Later in the temporary rule it explains that the vessels potentially included are:
• High capacity passenger vessels;
• Vessels carrying certain dangerous cargoes;
• Tank vessels constructed to carry oil or hazardous materials in bulk; and
• Vessels carrying liquefied hazardous gas.
It further explains that the moving security zones would help the Coast Guard to protect these vessels and the public from “destruction, loss, or injury from sabotage or other subversive
acts, accidents, or other causes of similar nature”. All of this holds together nicely, they are potentially high-threat vessels that would need additional protection in a high-threat environment.
Temporary rules of this sort are not unusual for certain types of high-profile event near navigable waterways. There was a similar temporary rule established last summer for the Republican National Convention in Tampa. That rule clearly spelled out the event that necessitated the restrictions and limited the time to the duration of the event. That has not been done here.
We are only told that “a risk evaluation conducted on December 4, 2012” necessitated this three month long increase in security along an 18 mile stretch of the Mississippi. With the Coast Guard not explaining what event necessitated the risk evaluation we can only assume that it is classified. What kind of classified three month long event that would affect an 18 mile stretch of one of the most heavily traveled rivers in the United States that one can’t even mention the existence of is beyond me.
To make things even odder there is an interesting paragraph in the discussion of the regulatory analysis conducted by the Coast Guard entitled “Protest Activities” (78 FR 262). It says:
“The Coast Guard respects the First Amendment rights of protesters. Protesters are asked to contact the person listed in the “FOR FURTHER INTFORMATION CONTACT” section to coordinate protest activities so that your message can be received without jeopardizing the safety or security of people, places or vessels.”
Now there was a similar paragraph in the Tampa Bay temporary rule as well. In fact, from reading the news accounts at the time, it seemed like the Coast Guard was most concerned with stopping the protestors from causing problems at the Convention. That was probably a slight exaggeration, but it was certainly a potential concern.
So what we have here is a possibly classified, three-month long event along an 18 mile stretch of the Mississippi that the Coast Guard suspects will draw protest activities. This keeps getting more interesting.
Like most of these temporary final rules, there is no time between to publication notice and the effective date of the rule, in this case a negative two days, to allow for a comment and response action. Comments may still be submitted thru the Federal eRulemaking Portal (www.Regulations.gov; Docket # USCG-2012-1078). Anyone with questions about the rule may call ((504) 365-2392) or email (Kenneth.E.Blair@uscg.mil) Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Kenneth Blair, Sector New Orleans, U.S. Coast Guard.