Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ending Ocean-Vessel Access Could Increase Jobs & More

Apr 9: In follow up research into transportation costs of ocean-vessel shipping on the Great Lakes [See WIMS 11/7/05], Grand Valley State University (GVSU) researchers have found that ending ocean-vessel access to the lakes would increase transportation sector jobs and have little impact to air quality or highway congestion. John Taylor, lead author from GVSU said, “Our ongoing work has been focused on presenting transportation scenarios that would both facilitate trade and address current problems on the Great Lakes. Such scenarios for moving freight have previously been ignored. Our recent report examines and refutes assertions that transhipment would destroy jobs, increase air pollution, and clog roads and rail lines. We hope this research provides an objective basis for public discourse and additional investigations. While we are not suggesting ocean ships be stopped to create domestic jobs, assertions that an end to ocean shipping on the Great Lakes would cost jobs are just plain wrong.”

The Phase II report addresses many of the questions raised by their first report, which found that a cessation of ocean-shipping on the Great Lakes would incur a $55 million cost increase by the use of alternative modes of transportation. The report marked a turning point in the public debate on what action to take to combat the introduction of aquatic invasive species to the Great Lakes by suggesting the use of alternative transportation modes as a solution. Ocean-vessel transportation is the main vector by which aquatic invaders like the zebra mussel have entered the Great Lakes in recent years. The researchers estimate of the costs of existing invasives range from $200 million to as high as $5 billion per year.

James Roach, president of the transportation consulting firm JLRoach Inc. said, “Critics argued that stopping ocean-vessels would cost jobs and drastically increase the number of trucks on the region’s highways -- we wanted to see if that was indeed the case. In fact our research found that over 1,300 new domestic jobs would be created in the U.S. and Canada, and the impact on our highways negligible.” The research finds many of these jobs would stay in the Great Lakes region, employing workers on lake vessels, barges, trains and trucks. Some jobs would re-locate to Canadian ports on the St. Lawrence River, and some to the east coast and Gulf of Mexico.

According to the study, truck traffic would increase by less than 1 per cent, and would only approach that on Highway 401 west of Montreal, where there would be an additional 89 trucks per day. The number of trucks would be far less on other routes. Shipping interests have stated that transhipment and the use of truck and rail to move the cargo currently transported on ocean-vessels would have a significant impact on air quality. Air emissions were compared across all three modes. But according to the study, for tonnage that does not move by alternative waterborne modes, the likely rail alternative is comparable to waterborne transportation on three pollutant categories, and the rail mode is actually significantly better than ocean on two pollutants.

As a result of the study, conservation and organized labor organizations issued a release saying they are reaffirming that, in the absence of stringent ballast water regulations, the cessation of ocean-vessel shipping on the Great Lakes can protect the Great Lakes ecosystem. Jennifer Nalbone, Campaign Director for Great Lakes United said, “Until the problem of aquatic hitchhikers is solved, ocean vessels do not belong on the world’s largest fresh water ecosystem. We will continue to work diligently in support of federal regulations, but research continues to emerge that shows the use of transportation alternatives and a cessation of ocean-shipping on the Great Lakes is a viable option.” The various interest groups issuing the release included: Great Lakes United; Canadian Auto Workers Local 1520; and the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

Access an announcement of the recent study (click here). Access links to both reports and related information (click here). Access a release from the interest groups (click here).