St. Lawrence Seaway dredging hits rough
LAKE MICHIGAN: Environmentalists fear evaluation study
will lead to deep dredging.
By Debra Gruszecki
Northwest Indiana Times
Published June 29th, 2004
A rip tide is swirling over a bi-country transportation
study of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.
Supporters say it will guide necessary upgrades, while
critics fear it could be the first step in a plan to deepen
Great Lakes shipping canals, which could harm the lakes,
including Lake Michigan.
Formally initiated in May 2003 by Canada and the United
States, the 30-month, $20 million study is under way to
determine what needs to be done to sustain the navigation
system for another 50 years.
It will be the focus of a public stakeholder hearing
July 14 in Chicago.
"What we have is an aging infrastructure, which
has not had any type of comprehensive reconstruction,"
said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Wayne
Schloop, referring to a series of locks that linked the
Great Lakes system to ocean-going vessels that date as
far back as 1914.
"If you think of the highway system, how many times
has that been rebuilt?"
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and the Indiana Port
Commission support the study.
The memo of cooperation signed by the United States and
Canada specifically said that enlarging or expanding the
system would not be on the table for this study, said
David Knight, project manager for the Great Lakes Commission.
Jody Peacock, a spokesman for Indiana Port Commission,
called the study timely because intermodal transportation
is fast becoming a crucial part of the national economy.
Still, critics of the study, mostly environmentalists,
suggest its underlying aim remains to set in motion plans
eventually to dredge connecting channels and open the
Seaway to the largest-size ships that traverse the Panama
Members of the National Wildlife Federation, based in
the United States, said the Great Lakes Commission and
Army Corps originally proposed expanding and deepening
the 26-foot-deep waterway navigational channel to 35 feet.
Deepening the waterway would destroy Great Lakes habitat,
lower water levels, create beach erosion and compound
invasive species problems, environmentalists contend.
"We know there are interests from some ports and
members of Congress to pursue enlarging the seaway,"
said Tim Eder, water resources director for the National
Lee Botts, of Gary, a nationally known clean-water expert,
and Tom Anderson, executive director of Save the Dunes
"The aim is to open the Seaway to Panamax ships,"
Botts said, referring to the largest-size ships that travel
through the Panama Canal. Botts said it is a concept that
would require dredging connecting channels such as Lake
St. Clair and the St. Marys River and building bigger
locks, including the one located in Sault Ste. Marie,
"The Corps asserts such ships would use the seaway
if they could, bringing jobs and businesses to Great Lakes
cities. The reality is, Great Lakes shipping has been
declining for decades for reasons not related to the seaway."
A rise in the number of saltwater vessels from foreign
ports also could introduce more exotic species to fresh
water, Anderson said.
The zebra mussel invasion has brought Lake Michigan fishing
to the brink of collapse, Eder said. "The whole base
of the food web is jeopardized, and a lot of scientists
think it's caused by zebra mussels."
Knight, of the Great Lakes Commission, has heard these
arguments in stakeholder hearings on the study held earlier
this year in Canada and in Duluth, Minn.
"Clearly, the environmental interests have had strong
feelings about invasive species and issues of resource
management that intersect with maritime navigation,"
"But the people from ports and shipping communities
have been articulate in expressing their desire for a
good, strong future for the system."
Albert Jacquez, who heads the American portion of the
St. Lawrence Seaway, told the Toronto Star newspaper in
Canada he believed the environmentalists were being purposely
The seaway "must be maintained and improved to continue
the flow of commerce," said Peacock, of the Indiana
Ports Commission, noting that 200 million tons of cargo
move through the 2,300-mile-long system annually from
the Atlantic Ocean to Duluth.
That flow of commerce contributes more than $6 billion
to the economy and acts as a relief valve for interstate
commerce on land. If the same 200-ton load of cargo were
to be shipped on land, it would consume 18,000 trains
and 7 million trucks, Peacock said.
"Transportation through the Great Lakes and inland
waterway system is the most efficient, cleanest and safest
mode of transportation there is, so sustaining that and
improving that would greatly benefit the region and environment,"
The navigation system provides a way of life for 5,000
people who work at the Ports of Indiana, Peacock said.
The entire waterway supports more than 65,000 jobs in
Canada and the United States, the Army Corps' Schloop
said. The waterway region is home to almost 100 million
people, roughly one-third of the combined U.S.-Canadian
Eder said the National Wildlife Federation is not out
to stop shipping but wants commercial navigation adapted
to meet the physical and ecological confines of the Great
He hopes planners consider setting up a system in which
the larger, saltwater vessels can unload and load at St.
Lawrence Seaway ports such as Montreal, with lakers carrying
cargo from point to point on the Great Lakes.
Schloop said the study is looking at short-sea shipping
Visclosky called the study a crucial first step toward
keeping the seaway a living, breathing waterway for marine
life and transportation.
"It is important to look at the Great Lakes from
many different aspects and angles to find solutions that
make sense from an environmental and economic perspective,"