Legislation takes aim at Lakes pests
New Michigan law targets freighter ballast water with nonnative species
By Nicole Gerring
Port Huron Times-Herald
Published January 05, 2007
For decades, uninvited visitors have wreaked havoc on the Great Lakes.
Zebra mussels clog water intakes, ruffe fish eat native fish food and the recently discovered red mysid shrimp may introduce disease or threaten the food sources of native species.
To help eliminate the growth of invasive species in its waters, Michigan has developed the first state law regulating ballast water.
The visitors likely arrived in the ballasts of ocean ships passing through the Great Lakes, officials have said. Ballast is a mixture of water, sediment and seaweed, the weight of which keeps ships stable during voyages.
The law, which took effect Monday, allows the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to require a $150 annual ballast permit from ships wishing to stop in Michigan ports. By buying the permit, owners of the ships agree not to dump ballast water in the Great Lakes or use a state-approved method to clean the water before flushing it into the lakes.
The U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards are responsible for monitoring ship records documenting ballast releases.
The Michigan legislation is groundbreaking, because Great Lakes commerce laws normally are controlled by the federal government, according to Minnesota Sea Grant.
Minnesota Sea Grant is a University of Minnesota program with a mission of enhancing the state's coastal environment and economy.
The organization expects the law to be challenged by shipping organizations and other state and federal governments, because four bills in Congress and several clauses of the U.S. Constitution pre-empt Michigan's new law.
Some shipping companies, such as Fednav International of Montreal, are testing cleaning methods.
The company manages many oceangoing ships that pass through the Great Lakes, including the Federal Welland. In 2005, a prototype system was installed in the ship to treat ballast water without chemicals.
The system, although approved under the Michigan law, still is being tested, said Georges Robichon, senior vice president of Fednav.
Although Robichon believes shipping companies should take environmental responsibility, he supports international legislation and standards.
"Ships trade worldwide, so you have to have systems that work everywhere with any kind of water," he said. "You can't operate that way (state by state), quite honestly. It's not an effective way of dealing with the problem."
None of the ballast-water treatment methods are completely effective, said Carol Swinehart, communications specialist for Minnesota Sea Grant.
"I don't know that anyone claims to have a 100% effective system for treating ballast water, so it's a risk," she said.
Contact Nicole Gerring at (810) 989-6270 or email@example.com.