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Great Lakes Article:

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 the program.

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 native creatures.

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 problem.

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' ports.

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.

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