Eight years ago, the Coast Guard, determined it needed an electronic survellance device to help keep track of vessels engaged in ocean dumping. Dumping is leagal only in specified areas in the ocean -- 106 miles southeast of Ambrose Lighthouse off New Jersey, for instance, or a site near Puerto Rico.

The Coast Guard's ability at the time to monitor dumping, an environmental protection task newly assigned, was limited to daylight patrols and use of "shipriders" Coast Guardsmen who rode on the dump ships to make sure nothing illegal was done.

In 1973, a five-year, $3000,000, research and development program was initiated. The result, in 1978, was a collection of electronic devices that could be placed on a dump ship and, theoretically, produce a tape that would allow reconstruction of the voyage, including whether the ship "traveled to the proper site, remained for an appropriate period of time and discharged the material within the dumpsite," according to a notice in the April 30 Federal Register (page 24213).

Another year went by as the Coast Guard drafted a proposed rule that would require ocean dumpers to purchase such surveillance devices for their ships. It was published in December, 1979, and the public was given until March, 1980, to comment.

Twenty-one responses came in, the majority negative -- very negative. Where would this electronic equipment come from, the industry wanted to know, and how much would it cost? The notice said the equipment could be bought for about $10,000 per ship, but the industry said it found no interest among electronic manufactures in building the device, primarily because only about 100 boats would need them. One commenter said the device could cost as much as $5000,000 per ship, which forced one Coast Guard officer to test the market. He came up with a $30,000 quote.

The comments were reviewed nine months. Finally, in October, it was decided to drop the idea. Another five months were needed to clear that with Coast Guard brass. On April 30, there it was in the Federal Register.

Another government idea, tested and discarded, albeit very slowly.