Michigan ready to stop invasive species
Written by Booth Newspapers - Washington Bureau   
Saturday, 16 April 2005 05:13
With frustration mounting over the lack of federal action to halt the steady stream of invasive species into the Great Lakes, Michigan officials are considering a plan to just do it themselves.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Steven Chester on Thursday endorsed legislation that would require ships to obtain permits if they want to work Michigan ports.

Before receiving a permit, ships would have to prove they don't discharge ballast water - invasive species' prime means of transport - or that they had some type of treatment system on board.

"The technology exists, and it is time that the ships using our Great Lakes take on the responsibility for protecting these national treasures," Chester said in a written statement.

The measure has bipartisan support and if passed would be the first-ever state legislation to require ballast water permits for shippers on the Great Lakes.

There are 162 nonnative species in the Great Lakes, and scientists estimate they are costing billions of dollars in damage. The most virulent species is the zebra mussel, a mollusk that often clogs water intake pipes from power plants.

Chester also announced that after nearly four years of research, the department has determined that ballast water treatments are safe and effective, and can be used by oceangoing vessels operating on the Great Lakes beginning in January 2007.

The study is designed to answer critics who claim that treatment options are ineffective and costly. Any state or federal effort to regulate discharges is expected to be fought by the shipping industry.

Environmentalists welcomed the Granholm administration's endorsement of the legislation and the release of its investigative report.

"We hope their program leads to the development of innovative ballast water treatment technology, thereby shutting the door on the main pathway of entry for invasive species," said Jordan Lubetkin, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor.

But officials at the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, one of the Great Lakes' largest ports, said the legislative proposal would likely lead to the development of a patchwork system of state laws and regulations by Canadian provinces that would do little good.

"The problem certainly needs addressing, but it's going to take the international cooperation of the two federal governments and the states and the provinces involved," said W. Steven Olinek, the authority's deputy director. "It's a huge problem with no easy fix. These parochial efforts are like putting a bandaid on a gushing wound."

That's why some are still hoping for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and work with the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor and regulate ballast water discharges from oceangoing vessels on the Great Lakes.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, is reintroducing legislation that would require freighters to discharge their ballast water before they exit the second lock in the St. Lawrence Seaway, known as the Eisenhower Lock. It is located between Montreal and Lake Ontario, still within the saltwater section of the seaway.

"I applaud what they're trying to do at the state level," said Miller. "It's an important piece of it, but it's not the only piece. What if they dump their ballast water in Lake Erie? We need a federal policy."

The Granholm administration and Republican state senators agree, and they're hoping that some efforts in Michigan or through a regional coalition might spur action on the federal level, either by the EPA or Congress.

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