WisBusiness: Superior mayor raps proposed DNR ballast rules

By Brian E. Clark

Proposed Wisconsin ballast water treatment rules that would be 100 times stronger than neighboring Minnesota’s could cost the Port of Superior hundreds of jobs.

That’s the assessment of Superior Mayor Dave Ross, a critic of the regulations being considered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“Oceangoing shippers will simply go the Port of Duluth if they can’t meet Wisconsin rules,” said Ross, who testified with other civic, business and labor leaders Monday at a state Department of Natural Resources hearing in Milwaukee.

“If these rules are adopted, it will increase manufacturing costs and stifle economic development,” he said. “With our economy in dire straits and unemployment approaching 9 percent, this is not a good time to do this.”

Superior has the largest port on the Great Lakes with 800 employees and an economic impact of $200 million. Ross estimated the ballast rules could cut business by 60 percent if it is enacted and goes into effect in 2012.

“This rule will have a huge negative economic impact on our community,” he said, noting that Minnesota’s weaker regulations won’t start until 2016.

Not everyone is opposed to the new regulations, however.

Melissa Malott of Clean Wisconsin said her group supports “zero discharge” standards to control invasive species such as zebra mussels, which damage fisheries and clog water intake pipes. She said more than 180 types of invasive species have been documented in the Great Lakes.

Malott argued, however, that Wisconsin’s rules are not strong enough and include grandfathering of some older ships, extensions for younger ones and allow the use of chlorine to cleanse ballast tanks.

She also said she is disappointed that the statewide regulation would only cover ocean-going vessels, known as “salties” and not “lakers,” which don’t sail the oceans but can still transport invasive species.

Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania have all adopted the same standards for ballast treatment. New York has adopted regulations similar to those proposed by the Wisconsin DNR and been sued by the shipping industry.

Under Wisconsin’s proposed regulations, existing ships would have to meet standards that are 100 times tougher than United Nations rules in three years. Ships built after 2012 would have to achieve levels that are 1,000 times tougher. If the cleansing technology is not available by 2012, the ship owners would only have to meet U.N. standards.

Ross argued that the technology to meet the Wisconsin standards is not yet available, though environmentalists dispute that assessment.

But both sides – and state regulators – say that the spread of invasive species needs to be halted.

The DNR says the tougher rules are needed because the federal government has not acted to control invasive species, which are spread in the Great Lakes by ships.

The invaders are carried in ballast water, which is used to steady partially full ships. When inadequately treated ballast is flushed, the foreign organisms can colonize new waterways and damage the environment.

“We don’t oppose tough ballast water standards,” said Ross. “But we want them to be uniform so we are not harmed economically.

“With a new administration in Washington, we hope the federal government will take the lead on this,” he said. “It should have been done a while ago.”