Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Groups Call For New Vision Of Seaway On 50 Anniversary

Mar 30: On the 50th anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway, conservation groups are highlighting what they are calling "the maritime corridor’s damaging environmental legacy" and are calling for policy and operational changes that address "decades of environmental and economic damage caused by the operation of the Seaway." Additionally, they say the navigation industry must prepare for future challenges associated with the impacts of climate change. The groups include Great Lakes United, Save The River, and National Wildlife Federation.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is a 189-mile (306-kilometer) maritime waterway between Montreal and Lake Ontario and was at one time heralded as an engineering marvel. During construction, portions of the St. Lawrence River were channelized and flooded and seven locks were built. The Seaway opened in 1959 amid forecasts that it would turn Great Lakes cities into world class ports by linking the interior of North America to global trade. The groups say history has proven otherwise and point to the fact that today, less than 7 percent of Great Lakes shipping traffic is international. The Seaway’s busiest season was its first year of operation, while total tonnage peaked in 1977 at 57.7 million tonnes and has been declining since. From 1993-2003 the waterway averaged 35 million tonnes, operating at about its half capacity.

The groups emphasize that the environmental and economic damage associated with ongoing Seaway operations are significant. Since 1959, they say international shipping has been the primary source of new non-native aquatic invasive species, such as the zebra and quagga mussels in the Great Lakes. The University of Notre Dame estimates that such species cost citizens, businesses and cities in the eight Great Lakes states alone at least $200 million per year in damages to the commercial and recreational fisheries, wildlife watching tourism, and through increased water infrastructure costs.

The groups contend that "if the Seaway wants to remain viable for another 50 years, it must ensure that the influx of invasive species is stopped, that it aggressively plans to adapt to lower water levels in ways that will not damage the Great Lakes and St. River, and in turn becomes part of restoring the Great Lakes by charting a new, truly sustainable course for future operations. Failure to do so will put the livelihoods of the people and species that rely on these waters, as well as the industry itself, at stake."

Access a release from the groups with links to additional background material (click here).