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Great Lakes Article:

Ritchie both oppose Seaway expansion plan Ecology, economy threats cited
Drew Mangione,
Watertown Daily Times Aubertine
10/14/2002

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."

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