By Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine
This past week I was invited to attend a press conference at the Oswego Port Authority to discuss a Department of Environmental Conservation action intended to eliminate invasive species, but which instead threatens to shut down shipping through the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes.
The intent of this DEC action is commendable. Invasive species are a serious issue facing our waterways. Be it round gobies or zebra mussels, these non-native species represent a threat to our economy on the water, particularly the tourism and fishing industries. After hosting a public hearing in 2007 in Clayton, I sponsored legislation as an Assemblyman to address this issue and firmly believe we need to take all reasonable steps to eliminate the introduction of invasive species.
My concern is the impact on our economy and jobs that this action could have by drastically reducing the amount of commerce that comes through our communities along the Seaway into the Ports of Ogdensburg and Oswego. My number one priority as our representative is our economy from agriculture to tourism and everything in between. We need to protect the jobs we have and give our businesses the opportunity to create new jobs.
However, protecting one industry from this threat should not be done by shutting down commerce on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Other states have similar concerns about invasives, but have not imposed these same regulations on such an aggressive time frame. Every ship that comes through and off loads or on loads cargo at our ports supports jobs and standards included in this action of 100 times International Maritime Organization standards by 2012 and 1,000 times the IMO standards by 2013 are unworkable based on current technology.
All industries and the jobs both at our two major ports and with the businesses that have direct connections to the products brought in on these vessels would be negatively affected by this action. It applies to ships whether or not they discharge ballast water at a time when the technology isn’t available to meet these standards. The alternative to shipping through the Seaway would be to have these ships stop at New York Harbor and load hundreds of thousands of tractor trailers to ship across the state, increasing the amount of environmentally hazardous emissions.
We should be working to achieve these standards. I firmly believe that. However, we need to strike a balance that allows us to preserve our environment, protect our jobs and grow our economy. Our ports are important to our economic future. I have worked to secure for the Oswego Port Authority a $1.75 million grant to rehabilitate and reconstruct a section of pier. Likewise, I worked to secure for the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority $1.2 million for its access road project and another $2.7 million to make improvements to the rail system.
These projects need to have the opportunity to bear fruit for our local economy without imposing an action that undermines their ability to do business. We cannot afford to have the DEC over regulate to threaten the jobs we need and depend on in our region and across this state. What we need here is to work together and have all sides come to an agreement that will accomplish the goal of shutting down the introduction of invasive species without shutting down our ports. This will help us to protect jobs on two fronts and allow our economy to grow.