Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Bilateral Ballast Battle Brews over Keeping Invasive Species out of Great Lakes

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Bilateral Ballast Battle Brews over Keeping Invasive Species out of Great Lakes

Article excerpt

Ballast battle brewing between Canada, U.S.

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OTTAWA - Tough new American rules on ballast water discharge in the Great Lakes, designed to curb the spread of aquatic hitchhikers like zebra mussels and goby fish, will penalize Canadian freighters while all but ignoring U.S. vessels, say shippers north of the border.

The powerful U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin implementing the new ballast rules in December after years of wrangling among Canadian officials, the U.S. Coast Guard, the state of New York and other Great Lakes jurisdictions.

Earlier this year, the EPA essentially put the brakes to New York efforts to implement tough standards that were significantly more stringent than international regulations. Those proposed rules prompted fears that Great Lakes shipping would have screeched to a halt, since all foreign ships must pass through New York waters on their way to the lakes.

The new rules require overseas vessels to install ballast-cleaning technology before dumping their waste water into the Great Lakes. That costly retrofitting will affect as much as 50 per cent of the Canadian Great Lakes fleet.

Gary Doer, Canada's U.S. ambassador, said the regulations amount to a solution that won't unduly punish the lakes' $11-billion shipping industry.

"We think that it's gone from a potentially devastating situation for the Great Lakes in terms of economics to a very manageable situation that does improve the regulations for ballast water that are intended to deal with invasive species, and protects the economic livelihood of both sides of the border," Doer said in a recent interview.

"There's no question at the end of the day we've got protection of our shipping industry on both sides of the border, but we've also got improved standards."

But Greg Wight, head of shipping company Algoma Central Corp., said the EPA rules essentially exempt the entire U.S. Great Lakes fleet while forcing Canadian ships to comply if they hope to sail in American waters, placing Canada at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Ships that don't venture east of Anticosti Island, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, are exempt from the new regulations, Wight noted.

U.S. vessels are predominant in the upper Great Lakes; they're too big to proceed past the Welland Canal. Most Canadian vessels, meantime, sail up Canada's east coast and into Arctic waters.

Ships built before 2009 are also exempt from the new rules. The U.S. has no new Great Lakes ships and no plans to build any; Canada has 16 post-2009 vessels.

"So: same type of vessel, same trade, but being treated differently because of when they were built," Wight said.

"There's no logic to it, but it's certainly convenient that the U.S. fleet is totally covered and we're not."

Wight places part of the blame with Transport Canada, which has yet to unveil its own ballast discharge rules that could level the playing field between the two countries. …

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