OSWEGO, NY â€“ Proposed new guidelines, aimed at keeping invasive species out of the Great Lakes may also keep commerce out of the area, many feel.
Local and state and federal officials banded together today (Oct. 7) vowing to fight for the future of the Port of Oswego Authority.
The port could be forced to close if New York moves forward to enforce unworkable rules governing the treatment of ballast water carried by commercial vessels on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The government officials and marine industry executives gathered for a tour of the Port facility and to hear remarks from the portâ€™s executive director and the administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
They addressed the onerous new regulations, which would effectively block maritime commerce from transiting the St. Lawrence Seaway, cutting off access to and from American and Canadian ports on the Great Lakes.
The rules require that by Jan. 1, 2012, commercial vessels operating in New York waters must have ballast water treatment equipment that can meet a water quality standard 100 times greater than that established by the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations.
Additionally, vessels constructed after Jan. 1, 2013, must have equipment that meets a standard 1,000 times higher than international standards.
That would be the equivalent of trying to find 10 golf balls in a volume of water equal to 577 Empire State Buildings, according to the Oswego portâ€™s director.
No technology exists anywhere in the world to achieve this goal.
These regulations inexplicably apply to all ships whether or not they discharge ballast water.
The marine industry has collaborated with the U.S. and Canadian governments to ensure strong protections against the introduction of invasive species.
All vessels entering the Great Lakes region must comply with the most stringent ballast management regulations in the world, according to the administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.
Foreign vessels are required to pump out their ballast water while still at sea and flush any empty tanks with ocean water; the salt water destroys many of the invasive species, he added.
Since these rules were put in place in 2006, there have been no new discoveries of aquatic nuisance species entering the Great Lakes via ballast water.
â€œAs the first U.S. port of call on the Great Lakes, the implications of these standards are disastrous. The port directly employs 100 people and has a wider annual economic impact of more than $6 million,â€ said Jonathan Daniels, executive director of the Port of Oswego Authority. â€œThe Port of Oswego is one of the most productive ports in North America with nearly 150 vessels and more than 1.1 million tons of cargo moving through the port on an annual basis. Thirteen companies depend on the port as part of their domestic and international logistics chain. International clients and cargoes span the globe from Brazil and the Netherlands, to Russia and Indonesia. The thought of closing the port because our home state issued these regulations is inconceivable.â€
This is an extremely important issue, not only for Oswego but the ports throughout the state and those in Canada, he added.
â€œWe all want to protect our lake from invasive species that could impact our fish and wildlife tourism industries. But, these regulations go too far,â€ said Sen. Darrel Aubertine, who wrote the DEC immediately after the action was proposed and has been leading the efforts in the Senate to bring the DEC to work with shipping interests and commerce.
â€œThe conditions imposed by this action are over-broad, and both economically and technologically unworkable. The end result of these regulations would be equal to shutting down the business that comes into our ports along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, impacting the jobs we depend on,â€ he continued.
As someone who grew up along the St. Lawrence River, the senator said he has a good understanding of the importance that the seaway, Lake Ontario and all the ports play in the economy.
â€œThe bottom line is the success we enjoy here today needs to continue,â€ Aubertine said.
â€œI believe the stance the state and DEC have taken will ultimately prove counter-productive. I certainly support getting a handle on invasives. I certainly cannot support a plan that will, in my opinion, take us in the wrong direction.â€
He said the problem needs to be addressed by more than just New York; cooperatively, with Canada, and other states.
Assemblyman Will Barclay agreed.
There has to be some compromise to find a plan that would help the environment and at the same time not hinder commerce.
â€œWe have to keep the lines of communication open between the local and state government,â€ he noted. â€œThere needs to be some moderation so we donâ€™t crush this great institution that we have here.â€
Terry Johnson, administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, concurred.
â€œThe benefits of the Port of Oswego cannot be taken for granted. After 400 years as a center of trade, commerce into and out of this port is going to come to an end in just 15 months,â€ he warned. â€œAnd, when we do things to the Seaway, we must also be mindful that it also impacts Canada.â€
â€œAs the people of Oswego and Central New York struggle to pull out of the recession, create jobs, and support their families, it is unfortunate that the NY Department of Environmental Conservation is working against them. I call on the State of New York to rescind these foolish regulations and work cooperatively with other Great Lakes states and the federal government to protect the environment without crashing the economy and putting more Americans out of work,â€ he continued.
Johnson added that he is â€œvery, very impressedâ€ with the job that Daniels has been doing at Oswego.
â€œAbout 80 percent of everything that we consume comes in via import, by water,â€ Johnson pointed out. â€œMaritime transportation is the most cost-effective means of moving goods. It is environmentally friendly.â€
Because of the invasive species that have come in through the Seaway, some say it should be shut down, he said.
â€œIf you did that, the goods and products that come in via the Seaway would take about two and a half million trucks to ship. Do you want another two and a half million trucks on the road?â€ he asked rhetorically.
Four years ago, the US and Canada put into place a set of regulations that help curb invasive species, he noted.
â€œFor the last four years, there have been no invasive species coming into the Great Lakes via the Seaway,â€ Johnson said. â€œWeâ€™re proud of that record.
The Oswego port is located less than 300 miles from 60 million people.
â€œThatâ€™s a pretty decent consumer base,â€ Daniels said. â€œWeâ€™ve proven our worth as a business center. The importance of the facility today cannot be over-stated.â€
To drive home the point, he summarized all the business that took place at the port during a recent one-hour period.
â€œIt wouldnâ€™t be a bad week for many ports,â€ he said. â€œBut, this was occurring at the Port of Oswego in one hour.â€
The proposed new regulations will effectively prohibit the operation of vessels in New Yorkâ€™s waters, cut off access to and from Canadian and US ports, Daniels said.
It could mean the closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Daniels said.
Nearly 100 direct jobs with a payroll in excess of $6 million annually and other in-direct jobs would be lost, he said.
The ripple affect will be felt by ports in Canada, Mid-West farmers, steel producers in Ohio and tourism and many others, he added.
Environmentally, it would take 870 trucks to replace one Seaway size vessel, he continued.