Locals challenge ballast water legislation

Local officials are traveling to Madison to testify today against legislation they worry could end shipping in Wisconsin Ports within seven months of enactment.

Local officials are traveling to Madison to testify today against legislation they worry could end shipping in Wisconsin Ports within seven months of enactment.

The impact would be significant 11,387 jobs, $1.35 billion in output and nearly $377 million in wages, salaries and proprietor incomes, according to 2003 data provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the most recent available.

And, its impact would be felt beyond Wisconsin's borders, said Fred Shusterich, president of Midwest Energy Terminal in Superior. He said some of the ports of call for the company's coal, such as Detroit Edison in Michigan, only have the ability to receive the product by ship.

At issue is Assembly Bill 360, which is open to a public hearing today in front of the Assembly's Natural Resources committee. Rep. Nick Milroy, D-Superior, serves on the committee and is one of the cosigners of the bill.

Milroy said the goal of the legislation is to require, by state law, rules promulgated for ballast water treatment by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He said the goal of the public hearing is to listen to those with a stake in the state's ports to craft legislation that is workable to protect industry and the lakes.


"Another goal of the bill is to make sure we have legislation on the books," he said. "We've been working hard with the DNR to get a permit in place. We're at a place where we think we can move forward with that. The problem is that when the DNR does something like that without legislation, if you have a change of administration, they could wipe out whatever the DNR did."

However, officials worry language in the bill would create unrealistic timelines for the installation of technology that would allow shippers to treat ballast water and prohibit ships from entering Wisconsin Ports. Under a subsection of the bill, the specific methods to kill or remove aquatic invasive species - filtration, thermal methods, ultraviolet light, biocides or other technology approved by the DNR - are specifically defined. The requirement would go into effect on the first day of the seventh month after the bill is enacted.

The problem with that, according to Mayor Dave Ross, a member of the Great Ships Initiative board, is none of the technologies in the bill have proven effective in combating invasive species. The Great Ships Initiative is studying the problem and moving closer to a solution, but hasn't reached that point, he said.

"We have not had one successful trial run of submitted technologies to the Great Ships Initiative ... a number of things have been submitted but not proven effective," Ross said.

While technologies exist that work in saltwater, Port and Planning Director Jason Serck, president of the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association, said the same simply isn't true for ships that sail in the Great Lakes freshwater.

"There's a discrepancy with saltwater and freshwater," Serck said.

"Any vessel that would come into the port of Superior would be in violation because there is no way they could get a permit based on the way this is written," said Andy Lisak, Development Association director. "Where the DNR was looking at establishing standards for ballast water, this one (AB360) prescribes technologies. It's an approach that only one other state has taken ... Michigan."

Lisak said Michigan has not issued one discharge permit issued according to information he received. Unlike the Michigan law, which only requires the permit if a ship is going to discharge ballast water, he said the assembly bill would require it for all vessels in Wisconsin waters.


"They would be required to implement technology in a time frame that's simply not achievable," Lisak said.

"The legislation is not necessary, basically," said Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn. He said with rules to be implemented by the DNR and rules that went up for 90-day public comment by the U.S. Coast Guard on Friday, the issue is being addressed.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, agrees. He anticipates the DNR's new permit rules to go into effect by the end of summer.

"I think the bill is going to be irrelevant," Jauch said. "The permits will be issued before the bill is even passed. The bill is irrelevant because it's not necessary ..."

Jauch said the bottom line for him is he wants the DNR to recognize the importance of shipping and technological limitations, but promotes standards high enough in the future to protect the lakes.

And with the rules proposed by the U.S. Coast Guard, which would apply to all the nation's ports, he said that would be a better solution that would put all the states on an even playing field regarding ballast discharge requirements. Proposed standards for Wisconsin are more stringent than those adopted by most of the Great Lakes states.

Local officials have lobbied for national standard in Washington D.C. and agree that would be the best solution for a national problem that affects ports from coast to coast.

"Right now, there's a patchwork of ballast water laws that causes confusion, not only for salties but for lakers; AB360 will add to that," Lisak said.


"Lake Superior and Lake Michigan are not Wisconsin's lakes," Shusterich said. "... The environmental impact will be negligible and what it will do is basically force out of business industries and ports. And unfortunately, it's not just Wisconsin that hurts."

What To Read Next
Get Local