As shipping season begins, ballast issues looms large on the horizonThe arrival of the Federal Welland — the second ocean-going vessel to reach the Twin Ports on Sunday, marked the beginning of the 2009 international shipping season in Superior.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
The arrival of the Federal Welland — the second ocean-going vessel to reach the Twin Ports on Sunday, marked the beginning of the 2009 international shipping season in Superior.
The Federal Welland was loading wheat at Cenex-Harvest States Tuesday as local officials celebrated the arrival of the international shipping season. But a cloud hung over the festivities.
A Wisconsin proposal to enforce ballast water treatment requirements 100 to 1,000 times more stringent than the neighboring port of Duluth looms large, and the requirement would go into effect four years ahead of Minnesota’s standards at a time when the technology to treat ballast water is limited and not readily available.
“If the water ballast proposal would go through, it would put Wisconsin requirements at a higher level than all the other state’s around it,” said Tim Paurus, assistant vice president of terminal operations for the elevator. “Ocean-going vessels like this one would have the ability to just go across the harbor and load in Duluth. It would have a real devastating effect on CHS.”
Currently, half the grain shipped in the Twin Ports is shipped from the Superior facility near the Blatnik Bridge.
With grain shipments declining in recent years and new regulations that could send ships to other ports, Paurus said “it may cause us to close down possibly. We’re not anti-environment, but we do need to have a level playing field from all the states.”
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has proposed ballast water permit standards that exceed those adopted by the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization, and five Great Lakes states — Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Under the proposal, Wisconsin would require existing ships to meet a standard 100 times the IMO standard and new ships would have to meet a standard 1,000 times the IMO standard by 2012.
“As written, the permit will put Superior and all Wisconsin ports at a competitive disadvantage and jeopardize jobs that are so important to our community,” said Development Association Director Andy Lisak.
The Federal Welland is among the rare ships today that has technology aboard that can combat the spread of invasive species by ocean-going vessels, said Georges Robichon, senior vice president and general counsel for Fednav, owner of the Federal Welland and the largest fleet of seaway-sized ocean-going vessels that call on the Great Lakes.
“This is a very special ship,” Robichon said. “It has one of the most advanced ballast water treatment systems on board — a prototype system.”
The system called Ocean Saver uses nitrogen and compression to remove oxygen from ballast water to kill organisms that may live in ballast tanks.
Robichon said the system meets the standards set by IMO but Wisconsin’s standards are much more stringent. He would like to see a regulation that’s more “harmonious” with other Great Lakes states.
The technology needed to meet Wisconsin’s standard doesn’t exist and technology like that aboard the Federal Welland is not readily available or commercially available, Robichon said.
“It really is about jobs on our waterfront,” said Mayor Dave Ross, who serves on the board of the Great Ships Initiative, which is working to test proposed technology that could be used to treat ballast water to prevent the spread of invasive species. “This port means a lot to the city of Superior. Over 2,000 jobs have a direct or indirect impact of the activity on this waterfront — over $200 million in economic activity. And you know what warm’s a mayor’s heart is over $3-and-a-half-million in property taxes as a result of waterfront activity, and over $1 million in occupational taxes. This waterfront is vital to a vital economy for the region and in the Twin Ports. It’s an important part of our heritage and our past, and great part of our future.”
Local leaders are working with state legislators to ensure Wisconsin standards don’t leave ports like Superior high and dry.
Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, in a letter to DNR Secretary Matt Frank concerning the issue, recommended a tiered timetable that would require saltwater vessels to meet IMO standards by 2012 and phase in the higher standard as the technology becomes available. The senator does favor stringent standards to protect Wisconsin’s waterways
“However, as necessary as it is to set strict standards we must adopt realistic measures mindful of economic realities to assure that the rules are practical and achieve the desired goals,” Jauch stated.
“We’re here and we’ve been here for over 150 years because of the port,” said Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn. “The people before us recognized this is a great place for shipping, for employment … I can remember when these grain elevators were built. I can remember when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened (50 years ago) and how significant it was to this community and the Great Lakes as a whole. The port of Superior does more shipping than any other port on Lake Superior.”