New DCA head William Doyle set to advance US dredging

William Doyle

William Doyle. Credit: Federal Maritime Comission

The end of last year saw the entry of maritime heavyweight William Doyle, who is perhaps best known for serving as the maritime commissioner for the US Federal Maritime Commission, to the dredging world.

The Pennsylvania native, who was unanimously confirmed twice by the US Senate as a presidential appointee during the Obama administration and stayed on for part of the Trump administration, took over as the chief executive officer and executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America (DCA) in January 2018.

“Coming into the dredging sector is so different from the world of oil tankers, container ships, and ro-ros – it’s new for me … exciting … and I’m leaning forward every day,” he told Fairplay sister publication DPC on the sidelines of the annual Western Dredging Association (WEDA) Dredging Summit & Expo, held in June.

The role, which can be summed up as serving as the public face of the DCA, sees Doyle represent the interests of 12 large and 16 small dredging companies that are spread out over both US coasts, inland rivers, and even Hawaii and Alaska.

“My main goal is to produce results,” he said, while expressing confidence that his widespread maritime industry experience and connections would facilitate this, particularly as he left on very good terms with the government.

“There are so many bills moving through Congress for funding and I have built solid working relationships on Capitol Hill and have a good reputation with the Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate – and the Trump administration itself,” he explained. “I can get into the doors that I need to get into in order to make things happen.”

Doyle began working in shipyards when he was 19, went to sea for 10 years as a marine engineer after graduating from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and achieved his self-set goal of graduating from law school by the time he was 30.

He feels that his chosen career path has given him an edge. “I would describe myself first as engineer by trade, because I like to fix things,” he explained, “but being a lawyer allowed me to hone my negotiation skills, and the combination means that we end up with best possible products.”

Advocate for change

The mix of legal and engineering expertise that he brought to the table first caught the eye of the George HW Bush administration, which appointed him to the post as a director of what was then the Office of Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Projects.

“I did that for three years, during which time I managed and co-ordinated the regulatory activities of 22 federal agencies, 12 State of Alaska agencies, and several agencies at federal and provincial level in Canada,” he said, pointing out that co-ordinating the needs of various stakeholders have honed his skills in an ideal manner for his position with the DCA.

Following his five years as a federal maritime commissioner, Doyle, who was not actively job-searching at the time, was approached on behalf of the DCA in July 2017.

“I wasn’t really looking before they approached me, but once we got into to the details of the job description, this was the only job that I considered,” he said emphatically.

Doyle’s favourite part of his new role is that he learns something new every day and has been surprised by the scale of the sector. “It’s been surreal for me. I knew something about the types of dredging operations and harbour deepening and projects around the country, but the scope of the work and seeing it in physical form was much larger in scale than I originally thought,” he admitted.

That said, he has immersed himself in his responsibilities. “Right now, most of my day is consumed with partnering with US Army Corps of Engineers, educating congressional leaders, advocating for funding for beach nourishment, harbour deepening, and coastal restoration projects, and interacting with the privatesector companies as well,” he told DPC. "I am the face and voice of the association. When taking on this job, I promised to raise its profile and that’s what I’m doing."

During his first seven months, one of the key items on his agenda has been spreading the news about the USD1.2 billion dredging fleet rejuvenation that is under way.

"Our new investments include four large cutter suction dredgers, two large hopper dredgers, and approximately 50 barges built in shipyards across the US, including Eastern Shipbuilding, C&C Marine Shipyard, Corn Island Shipyard, Conrad Shipyard, and Halimar Shipyard,” Doyle said.

“We have a really good story to tell: we are American companies providing American jobs on US-flag ships and in American yards,” he said, referencing the fact that the new ships will be built and crewed as per the protectionist Jones Act, a domestic maritime law that he is extremely strongly in favour of.

“The Jones Act has enabled the overall US maritime industry to generate USD100 billion in annual economic output, USD30 billion in annual employee compensation, USD11 billion in annual tax revenues, and USD46 billion in value-added [products and services],” Doyle said.

Although the political climate in the US is often fraught, one of the benefits to the current arrangement is that the  Republican party not only has an elected representative serving as president, but is also currently in the majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“What we are seeing right now is that with an undivided government, funding is becoming available for things that haven’t been funded over the past five years,” he explained. “Having unanimity is revitalising the funding for water and dredging projects. It all starts with dredging, and President Donald Trump is backing it up with critical legislative measures.”

Doyle, who told DPC that there were several significant dredging equipment orders to be announced over the next few months, pointed out that the massive investment under way is of particular importance given increasingly unusual weather conditions and the growing frequency of storms. “The private sector needs to meet the needs of coastal restoration and beach nourishment and our investment is going to continue,” he said.

Appropriate funding

He is confident that he has a solid overview of what hurdles lie in his path. “My biggest challenges are government and funding. Right now we are in a good place, but we are making up for five years of [comparative] inaction,” he said, adding that one of his goals was to ensure that all of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is made available for its intended purpose.

The fund, which is financed by a tax collected from users of the maritime transport system by imposition of a fee representing a fixed percentage of the value of the cargo inside each container on a merchant vessel, is supposed to be used to fund US Army Corps of Engineers operations and maintenance activities. However, in previous years, this money had been redirected by the government towards other areas of spending.

Another point on Doyle’s agenda is to ensure that regulations that affect dredging regulation are fit for purpose and are based on scientific research rather than an unnecessarily overprotective attitude. The DCA executive director is also keen for vessels to continue to evolve technologically and for stakeholder communities to continue using dredged material in beneficial ways.

While Doyle admits that the learning curve for dredging can sometimes prove challenging, he emphasised that he enjoys problem solving and is finding the whole process mentally stimulating. It is no surprise that he is eager to find the sweet spot between being environment-friendly and cost-efficient.

He is particularly infatuated with dredging’s advanced technology. “The technology on the bridge of the new dredgers, with completely computerised and digitised controls, is what has impressed me most – it’s cutting-edge technology,” he said, adding that the new vessels were all state of the art.

Doyle’s enthusiasm for the vessels is contagious and it is reasonable to assume that this trait will hold him in good stead on his mission to drum up interest and support for the sector.

“My main goal is to produce results and I know that I can make this happen,” he said. It remains to be seen if the seeds that have taken hold for the DCA can continue to bloom in the turbulent waters of the current US political climate.

Dredger builders and orders

US companies that have recently built or are building dredgers include:

- Great Lakes Dredge and Dock: USD160 million for 11,300m3 hopper dredger Ellis Island (Eastern Shipyard, Panama
City, Florida);

- Weeks Marine: USD110 million for 6,500m3 hopper dredger Magdalen (Eastern Shipyard, Panama City, Florida), and USD60 million for 760mm cutter-suction dredger JS Chatry, currently under construction (C&C Shipyard, Belle Chasse, Louisiana);

- Manson Construction: USD40 million for 760mm cutter-suction dredger Robert M White (Halimar Shipyard, Morgan City, Louisiana);
- Callan Marine: USD60 million for 810mm cutter-suction dredger General Macarthur, which is currently under construction (C&C Shipyard, Louisiana);

- Jay Cashman: Recently unveiled plans to build one or two 3,800m3 hopper dredgers.


Contact Namrata Nadkarni and follow her on Twitter: @nadkarninamrata