to improve shipping worry environmentalists Great
Lakes plan dredges up fears Tom Henry
The Great Lakes are at a crossroads that pits efforts to
dramatically improve shipping against environmentalists
fearful that years of ecological improvements to the world’s
largest body of fresh water could be lost forever.
The outcome of this emerging debate could be a defining
moment not only for the Great Lakes but also for major port
cities such as Toledo, home to one of the shallowest - and
heavily dredged - harbors on the lakes.
From iron ore to grain, bulk items are moved cost-effectively
on the lakes. The spin-off gives the Midwest economy a shot
in the arm and helps keep the region an affordable place
But despite that importance, the navigation system between
the lakes - the St. Lawrence Seaway - has barely changed
since it opened in the 1950s.
While no firm proposal to improve the channel through dredging
is on the table yet, an initial U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
study authorized by Congress in 1999 has been completed
in draft form. It is under review at the corps’ headquarters
The results of the study have not been released because
it is pending review.
While modernizing the Great Lakes shipping channel through
dredging might seem inevitable as North America’s population
rises and the world’s global economy continues to evolve,
the issue goes a lot deeper than that - so to speak.
Dredging a deeper and wider passageway scares environmentalists
who question whether such a massive project - potentially
costing more than $10 billion and stirring up polluted sediment
for years - could halt much of the cleanup progress made
over the past 30 years.
The outcome of this emerging debate could have ramifications
"We’re in a global marketplace," James Hartung, president
of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said. "If we
want Toledo to grow and prosper, we need to upgrade the
Yet, activists believe more is at stake than just shipping.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that former President
Richard Nixon and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau signed in 1972 is often cited as a turning point
for Lake Erie’s multi-billion dollar recreation industry.
Sewage plants spent billions curbing phosphorus that helped
algae thrive, while industry cut back on toxic releases.
In less than a generation, Lake Erie rebounded from a near-dead
body of water to a thriving fishing capital.
Now, as U.S. and Canadian officials say they want to build
upon their cleanup efforts, they find themselves in a quandary
about the shipping channel - especially with forecasts for
movement of cargo to increase significantly by 2020.
Davis Helvarg, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port
Authority, likened the situation to having a road network
that never went beyond two-lane highways.
"Regrettably, I continue to see a struggle to maintain what
we have [if the status quo remains]," said Mr. Helvarg,
spokesman for a trade group called American Great Lakes
The Great Lakes channel was not built for the large fleet
of ships that comprise a huge portion of today’s shipping
market - those large trans-oceanic vessels moving goods
between continents. The St. Lawrence Seaway is used primarily
by smaller lake freighters and a limited number of ocean-bound
vessels carrying bulk materials, such as coiled steel.
East Coast ports handle most of the containerized shipments
that could be coming and going from Great Lakes .
"There’s a tremendous market right here," Mr. Hartung said.
"Essentially, our transportation dollars are pretty much
Environmental activists are concerned that chemicals recirculated
in the lakes by dredging would have an adverse affect on
Plus, a bigger fleet of ships could exacerbate a problem
that the United States and Canada don’t have under control
- invasive species from other parts of the world that get
carried into the lakes in ballast water wiping out native
Then, there are national security issues.
Toledo and other Great Lakes ports would need the same type
of heightened security that has been enacted along oceanic
and Gulf of Mexico ports if more easier-to-conceal crates
of goods enter the system, he said.
"For anyone to say there aren’t going to be incredible challenges,
it would be so naïve," Mr. Hartung said.
Now that the 1999 study is completed, the next step could
be authorization of a $20 million feasibility study that
would take about five years. The costs would be split between
the United States and Canada, according to Wayne Schloop,
project manager at the corps district office in Detroit.
Much of the viability - and debate - of the project will
center around how much officials would agree to have the
channel dug beyond the current minimum depth of 26 feet,
3 inches along the seaway and 25 feet, 5 inches in the lakes.
Thirty-five feet was used for initial study purposes, but
the corps is "not close to settling on the depth," Mr. Schloop
said. The $10 billion estimate covers what could conceivably
be done to finish the project by 2020, barring no major
Mr. Schloop said he recognizes ecological concerns, but
said the lakes are "losing relevance now in terms of accommodating
a large part of the world fleet."
"We have to ask whether we’re going to sacrifice further
progress for the promise of enhanced commerce," Tim Eder
of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office
in Ann Arbor said.
Mr. Eder said he respects shipping’s role and agrees that
aging locks should be rebuilt.
But he said it’s "almost beyond our comprehension how many
problems will be posed" if the issue moves forward.
articles on this subject »
species named lakes’ top enemy 10/19/2002
U.S. budget crimps Great Lakes research
muses over Great Lakes ecological quirks
enhancement along Great Lakes is bills’ objective
bills aim to protect Lake Erie wetlands
This information is posted
for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S.
Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for
purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use," you
must obtain permission from the copyright owner.