DFLers push Lake Superior protection
ENVIRONMENT: Minnesota lawmakers call for state action
against exotic species in ship's ballast water.
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribune
Published November 23, 2005
Attorney General Mike Hatch and two DFL lawmakers on Tuesday
called for new state laws regulating the ballast of ships
entering Minnesota's waters of Lake Superior.
The proposal would be similar to a new Michigan state
law and would require oceangoing ships to have a permit
certifying ballast water had been treated and inspected
to remove exotic species.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency would administer
It's an effort to try to limit the number of new exotic
species that come into the state riding in the ballast
tanks of freighters from faraway ocean ports.
At least 187 foreign species -- most notably zebra mussels,
goby, ruffe and spiny water fleas -- now are in the Great
Lakes, including two dozen in the Duluth harbor and St.
Louis River estuary. Many are believed to have entered
the lakes riding in ships. Dozens more species are predicted
to arrive if action isn't taken, including exotic clams,
shrimp and herring.
A new invasive species, typically imported from Europe
or Asia, is discovered in the Great Lakes on average every
eight months, according to Minnesota Sea Grant experts.
Ships take on ballast water when empty to maintain balance
and then release the water as they take on cargo. That
release sometimes sends along species from distant oceans
and river systems that wreak havoc on local fish and other
Hatch, a DFLer running for governor, assistant Senate
Majority Leader Ann Rest, DFL, New Hope, and state Rep.
Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said they'll push the
proposal during the 2006 Minnesota legislative session
that begins in March. If adopted, their plan would take
effect in 2008. A similar Michigan effort, signed into
law in June, will become law in 2007.
"We need to act quickly and sensibly to save our
state's waterways and protect our quality of life,"
Hatch said in a statement announcing the plan.
Supporters say the federal government has so far failed
to take decisive action to keep exotic species out of
the Great Lakes and even ocean harbors. Congress has stalled
on proposed ballast action, although environmental groups
have won a federal lawsuit that will -- if upheld -- require
the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate
ballast under the Clean Water Act.
Efforts to battle exotic species after the fact, such
as keeping zebra mussels off water intakes and structures,
cost billions of dollars each year. And their environmental
damage so far hasn't been measured. In some areas of the
Great Lakes, zebra mussels have wiped out native clams
and drastically reduced the number of small invertebrates
that small fish eat.
The proposed Minnesota law also calls for better cooperation
with other states and Canada at solving the exotic species
Several ballast treatment methods are being tested, including
in Duluth, such as using chlorine, ultra-violet light
and filters to catch and kill exotic species.
But critics say ballast water treatment efforts aren't
practical or affordable for ship owners and that regional
and state laws will turn away business from Great Lakes'
They also argue that ongoing efforts to flush ballast
at sea, where most of the freshwater creatures perish,
already are removing most exotic species.
Ray Skelton, government and environmental affairs director
for the Seaway Port Authority of Duluth, could not be
reached for comment Tuesday. In April, he said legislation
requiring ballast treatment any time soon would be unenforceable.