N.Y. rules could halt St. Lawrence traffic: Feds

Grain and other freight hauled on the St. Lawrence Seaway could be forced to a halt starting in 2013 under New York state’s planned standards for treatment of ships’ ballast water, the federal government says.

Ballast water is pumped onboard vessels to increase draught, change trim, regulate stability or maintain stress loads within acceptable limits.

An international convention — which Canada, among other nations, ratified last year — would require seagoing vessels to install treatment systems for their ballast, in order to prevent foreign microorganisms from hitching rides into U.S. or Canadian waters in ships’ ballast tanks.

However, in the U.S., New York’s state government plans to impose ballast treatment requirements well beyond those in the International Maritime Organization convention.

New York’s rules, the Canadian government said Friday, would be so strict that the technology and testing capabilities to comply with them don’t yet exist.

What’s more, the federal government said, New York’s plan would apply not only to vessels entering New York harbours, but to any vessel traveling in New York waters on the St. Lawrence Seaway — whether the vessel plans to discharge ballast water there or not.

Two St. Lawrence Seaway locks near the entrance to the Great Lakes lie within New York waters, the federal government said, so enforcement of the requirements on transiting ships would stop commercial traffic on the Seaway.

Such rules would not only curtail Canadian shipments to and from ports at New York and New Jersey, but would also essentially shut down Canadian ships travelling between Canadian ports from the Seaway east, the government said Friday.

Inconsistent

Pierre Poilievre, an eastern Ontario MP and the parliamentary secretary for transport, said he met Friday with state and local officials in New York City to make Canada’s case for the ballast standards found in the terms of the International Maritime Organization convention.

If the IMO convention were adopted, 68,000 ships worldwide would be expected to install ballast water treatment technology, at a cost of about $1 million per ship on average.

"Years of technology development have produced safe, internationally approved technologies to shield our shared waters from invasive species," Poilievre said in a release.

However, the government said, New York’s planned rules are stalling installation of those systems while shipping firms wait to see what they’ll have to do to meet the state’s future standards.

New York’s plans follow a U.S. court decision in 2008, which led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set up its own regulations on ballast water discharges, while allowing state governments to add their own conditions on vessels in their waters.

The EPA’s draft of a new vessel general permit, which would take effect in December 2013, is due to be release at the end of this month, the government said.

Among what Ottawa calls a "patchwork" of U.S. federal and state rules, New York’s upcoming requirements, taking effect in 2013, would be up to "100 times more stringent" than those seen in the IMO convention.

Boats voluntarily complying with New York’s upcoming standards before 2014 would see those standards grandfathered until 2026, at levels 10 times more stringent than the IMO standard. The rules would become mandatory by 2016, by which time they would be 100 times more stringent than the IMO’s proposals, the government said.

The EPA’s own Science Advisory Board recently found there aren’t yet any existing treatment system types that would meet New York’s standard. Furthermore, Ottawa said, no approval protocol yet exists to test the operation of ballast water treatment systems beyond the IMO standards.

"Potential softening"

In a report to stakeholders earlier this month, however, the federal government said New York officials have "signalled a potential softening" on the proposed state ruled.

Among the officials meeting with Poilievre on Friday was New York state-level Senator Diane Savino, who said in the federal release that she hopes to work with Canada to "advance achievable ballast water standards in New York state that will ensure environmental conservation while promoting jobs and the North American maritime economy."

Canada’s position also has the backing of the New York Shipping Association, an Edison, N.J.-based group representing marine cargo operators. Association president Joseph Curto said his group "shares (Canada’s) position" on the matter.

The St. Lawrence Seaway begins its annual closure Dec. 24 for the 2011 navigation season. Any boats allowed on the seaway after that date must be clear of the seaway’s Montreal-Lake Ontario section before midnight, Dec. 30 and the Welland Canal before Dec. 31.

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