deeper Seaway proposed River residents, opponents say study is
narrow, bigger ships could ruin waterway. Mark
D.C.-The Great Lakes could be even greater, they say in
the Midwest, if only the largest ocean-going vessels could
carry cargo between the Atlantic Ocean and fresh-water
ports like Duluth, Minn.
That can't happen
unless the United States and Canada spend at least $10
billion on a big dig through the St. Lawrence Seaway,
the narrow outlet that connects the five Great Lakes with
the ocean. Widening and deepening the channel would enable
more ships, and bigger ships, to use the Seaway.
The Army Corps
is on the case,
having waded into what could be a six-year study of potential
changes to the 2,300-mile Great Lakes Navigation System.
Many New Yorkers
fear the Army Corps will use the study to find reasons
to widen the seven locks between Montreal and Cape Vincent,
deepen the channel through the St. Lawrence River to 35
feet and open the river to shipping during winter months.
"I love the
river," said Karen Howard of Manlius, 54, whose family
still visits the Wellesley Island cottage where she spent
her childhood summers. "To send those supertankers through
the heart of the Thousand Islands - it's just unthinkable."
group Save the River and New York's governor and senators
oppose the Army Corps study because of the impact a wider
and deeper sea lane could have on the area. Rep. John
McHugh, whose North Country district includes riverside
communities and their small businesses, said he hopes
to strip money for the study out of the federal budget.
"It was not
an easy decision to turn my back on the construction jobs
and the importance of the modernization of the Seaway
and the relevance it has to the North Country," McHugh
said. "That's generally the kind of initiative I'd be
inclined to support. But when you look at the unavoidable
environmental consequences such a project would have,
the greater good becomes very clear." /SUMidwest pushes
New York may be outmatched, however, by the political
heft of Midwest states whose ports are eager to welcome
the 1,000-foot ships that are now common to the Panama
Canal and other trade routes.
sentiment isn't even universal among New Yorkers.
me that so many people are going after a study," said
Tom McAuslan, executive director of the Port of Oswego
Authority, coining a verb that merges the meanings of
"befuddle" and "confound."
any work on the St. Lawrence would be designed to mitigate
damage to the river's ecology. "That's a given, has to
be part of it," he said.
At the same
time, Oswego and other port cities see a modern navigation
system as a potential boost to local economies. The current
Seaway, with locks that limit the length of ocean-going
"salties" to 750 feet, can handle only 13 percent of the
world's vessel capacity.
about people working and industry and tens of thousands
of people who depend on the Seaway," McAuslan said.
the economic argument is driving the study and react with
suspicion toward the Army Corps and its sponsors.
"They look at
our river as their discharge pipe," said Jack Manno, director
of the Great Lakes Consortium, a research alliance of
16 colleges and universities based at the SUNY College
of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.
"We're at the
bottom of the system and New York's interests aren't taken
into account at all," Manno said. An outdated system
project manager for the study at the Army Corps' office
in Detroit, denies claims by river advocates that the
study is being rigged to favor one outcome.
A report on
the first phase of the study is still awaiting approval
in Washington, he said, and its recommendations have not
been made public.
that the next stage would most likely focus on the reliability
of the aging locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the
Welland Canal that links Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
"If you come
to a decision point that the locks won't last more than
20 years, at that point you're going to have to do some
kind of analysis," he said. "Does it make sense to rebuild
them at their present size and present dimensions?"
The Seaway opened
in 1959 with the completion of a deep draft channel and
new locks in the St. Lawrence River. The link between
the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean provided an economical
route for the Midwest to export iron ore, grain and other
today makes up about 5 percent of the traffic in the Great
Lakes system. Most of the tonnage shipped on the lakes
travels between U.S. ports or between the United States
Great Lakes Ports Association argues that the Seaway has
"turned into an aged and outdated system" because it cannot
accommodate the 1,000-foot vessels that are becoming common
in ocean-going ships.
To handle the
larger ships, the Seaway's locks, now measuring 80 feet
by 766 feet, could be enlarged to 110 feet by 1,200 feet,
and the channel could be dredged from its current depth
of 26.25 feet to 35 feet. 'Heartache and disaster'
an early practitioner of environmental law in Syracuse,
has been spending summers on the St. Lawrence long enough
to remember when the Seaway was proposed in the 1950s.
"The only thing
it has brought us is heartache and almost economic disaster,"
said Manes, 76, a member and legal counsel of the Chippewa
Bay Yacht Club. He worries about future disasters like
the "Slick of 1976," when a tanker barge hit a shoal near
Wellesley Island in a heavy fog and spilled 177,815 gallons
"It's just a
catastrophe to bring these foreign vessels in who dump
their bilge and have no respect for the environment,"
owner of the Syracuse-based public relations firm that
bears his name, enjoys watching the big ships slide past
Wellesley Island, literally a stone's throw from the property
he bought on the channel side of the island.
But Mower believes
dredging, bigger locks and year-round shipping will only
hurt New York by harming the environment and the river-based
businesses that rely on tourism and recreation.
The ships are
deceptive, he said, in the way they affect the river.
"They make very
little impact on the surface of the water, but when the
ships go through there is a very powerful underwater surge
that is not visible unless you look beneath the surface,"
are a mixed blessing," said Dr. Harold Small of Fayetteville,
who has a summer camp on Wellesley Island. "Industry wants
these big boats to come in, but they're destructive to
the Manlius woman whose family still summers on Wellesley
Island, said dredging the river would "rile up all the
metals and nasty things that have been filtering through
the Great Lakes and settling there forever."
More ships also
would mean more chances for invasive species to arrive
from other continents, opponents say. Zebra mussels that
were first found in the Great Lakes basin in 1988 now
cover all hard surfaces in the river.
Howard has seen
first-hand the effects of zebra mussels while scuba diving
in the river. "You can see," she said, "but all you can
see is zebra mussels."
Small and Howard echo the arguments of Save the River,
the Clayton-based advocacy group that is fighting the
Army Corps study.
"We're not talking
about filling potholes," said Stephanie Weiss, executive
director of Save the River. "We're talking about completely
changing the navigation system."
Save the River
has fought back previous efforts to extend the shipping
season through the winter months, most notably in the
late 1970s under the leadership of Barry Freed, which
turned out to be an assumed name for the late fugitive
radical Abbie Hoffman.
in that debate by arguing that surges of water beneath
sheets of ice would disrupt bottom sediments, cause severe
damage to harbors and habitats and erode the shoreline.
Redirect the study?
Manor, met with Army Corps officials Wednesday to tell
them their study is too narrowly focused on expanding
locks and dredging. He hopes to persuade them to reconfigure
their study to consider the region's environmental integrity
and economic stability.
Schloop of the
Army Corps noted that other studies of Great Lakes ecosystems
are under way, but he conceded that "one valid criticism
is that there isn't a master plan that ties all this work
Weiss of Save
the River and Manno of the Great Lakes Consortium both
mentioned the $20 billion restoration plan for the Florida
Everglades while making the case for a broader study that
includes Great Lakes shipping in the context of the water
supply, a revitalized steel industry and an improved ecosystem.
tragedy in letting this go forward is missing the opportunity
to do a good study," Weiss said.
said, spending $10 billion and two decades to expand the
St. Lawrence Seaway to a depth of 35 feet would produce
an obsolete waterway still inferior to Baltimore's 50-foot
going to happen," he said. "The Seaway is never going
to be competitive. It's a myth."
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