both oppose Seaway expansion plan Ecology, economy threats
Watertown Daily Times Aubertine
Long before Rep. John M. McHugh made public his stance
against the expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Democratic
Assembly candidate Darrel J. Aubertine made it clear he's
opposed. "It isn't going to help us," Mr. Aubertine said
again this week. "The Seaway has never lived up to the
potential that was stated when it was first built. It's
also the first step toward winter navigation, which I'm
also opposed to on economic and ecological reasons." \Mr.
Aubertine is running for state Assembly in District 118,
which is made up predominantly of towns along the Black
and St. Lawrence rivers in Jefferson and St. Lawrence
counties. His opponent, Republican Patricia A. Ritchie,
was initially indecisive in regard to the expanding the
Seaway, but has since made her decision. "I cannot support
the Seaway expansion because of the environmental reasons,"
she said. "We have to protect the St. Lawrence River,
it's our greatest asset here.
That's what keeps a lot of these communities afloat through
tourism." Some of the concerns both she and Mr. Aubertine
have for the environment relate to the dredging of the
river that may have to be done, the alterations to water
flow that may be done should winter navigation be the
next step, and the prospect of destroying islands to make
way for wider locks. "What they're proposing is to turn
the St. Lawrence River into a canal," Mr. Aubertine said.
"It's not going to be cheap and you're going to have to
look at making it pay for itself. That's where winter
navigation comes in.
You'd have to run it year-round." Mr. Aubertine said
environmental problems would be accentuated by winter
navigation because of the effect waves beneath sheets
of ice would have on harbors and the underwater habitats
of fish and coastal nesting areas of birds. The Seaway
expansion is an issue because only about 40 percent of
the world's ships can fit through the locks, compared
to 90 percent at the Panama Canal. Driven off by the Seaway's
three months of down time, Midwest automobile makers who
want to ship cars to Europe send them by rail to Baltimore
on the Atlantic Ocean, where they are loaded onto ships.
The ships that pass through now are at most about 750
feet long; after an expansion project, trade ships as
long as 1,000 feet could pass through to the Great Lakes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a feasibility
study for which the federal government has said it is
willing to pay half of the study's estimated cost of $20
million. Both Mr. Aubertine and Mrs. Ritchie say they
are also opposed to the study. "We really could be using
the money for the lock systems to upgrade them," Mrs.
Ritchie said. "I support upgrading the locks to make sure
that they're not obsolete." And as for the hundreds of
millions if not billions of dollars it might cost to lengthen
the locks, demolish an island and expand the Seaway, Mr.
Aubertine has what he considers a better plan. "Why not
take a fraction of these billions of dollars and invest
it in infrastructure on dry land?" he said, noting the
fiber-optic lines connecting the north country or the
rooftop highway connecting Interstate 81 to Interstate
87 along the Route 11 corridor may be better investments.
"We could make any of those types of improvements we need
for our economic environment with just a fraction of what's
going to be spent on expanding the Seaway," he said. "Not
one of those thousand-foot ships is going to stop in New
York state." For now, Seaway expansion is a federal issue,
but both Assembly candidates said they intend to work
toward defeating the proposition or any state involvement
in the project. Mrs. Ritchie said she intends to work
with Save the River and other locally elected state and
federal lawmakers, including Mr. McHugh. Mr. Aubertine
said one of his worries is that the federal government
may come to the state looking for money toward the study's
costs. "As the assemblyman I'm going to speak up," he
said. "I'm not going to let the state appropriate $10
million. It's not that I want to see the Seaway diminished.
I just don't think the expansion benefits us. We assume
all of the risk and none of the benefits."