Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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State takes steps toward ballast permitting system

St. Paul – The public comments are in, and the Minnesota
Pollution Control Agency expects a system of permitting for vessel
discharge (ballast water) is likely to be approved sometime in
September, prior to the Oct. 1 deadline set by the agency and
ordered by a district court earlier this year.

The MPCA now must respond to those comments received from groups
ranging from the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa to the National
Park Service, the Canadian Shipowners Association, and others,
regarding how the agency handles ballast water exchange in the Lake
Superior, according to Paul Eger, MPCA assistant commissioner who’s
heading the process. The MPCA Citizens Board is expected to
finalize the permitting system next month.

The MPCA began working on a ballast water discharge program
early last year in an effort to curb the introduction of aquatic
invasive species to the Great Lakes; ballast exchange has been
blamed in the past for the introduction of some 150 invasive
species to the Great Lakes.

“Neither federal ballast water management requirements nor
shipping practices have been effective in preventing biological
invasions of the Great Lakes,” according to the MPCA’s Web site.
“Additional controls are needed to prevent the introduction of new
invasive species to Lake Superior.”

Among the Great Lakes states, only Michigan currently has a
permitting system, one that’s already withstood a legal challenge
from the shipping industry, Eger said.

Statements regarding the draft permitting plan ranged from
support for strict regulations by environmental groups, to
questions about feasibility of some aspects of the plan from
shipping organizations. The Canadian government even chimed in.

“We have national legislation and regulations in Canada that
address the issues surrounding aquatic invasive species,” Martin
Loken, consul general of Canada wrote in a letter to the MPCA. “In
that light, we support the development of comparable national U.S.
legislation and regulations.”

Loken called federal legislation favorable to state rules, and
encouraged any state rules to be compatible with “Canada-U.S.
bi-national agreements and operational activities.”

At this time, some groups, including the Lake Carriers’
Association, don’t believe some parts of the plan are feasible.

“Our members’ current vessels would be required to install
ballast water treatment systems by Jan. 1, 2016,” wrote James
Weakley, the association’s president. “This is a grievous error.
First, (MPCA) concedes that no such systems are currently in
existence.”

Weakley also argues that the same rules need not apply to both
“salties” (oceangoing vessels) and “lakers” (ship operating within
the Great Lakes system), which are the vessels represented by the
LCA.

Currently, all shippers are required to submit a ballast water
management plan. The permit, Eger said, would “lay out requirements
for shippers that wish to discharge ballast water.” It will include
ballast water treatment requirements. Monitoring ballast is part of
the MPCA’s mission under the state’s Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups say the ballast rules are overdue.

In its comments to the MPCA, Clean Water Action states:
“Invasive species are causing the foundation of the Great Lakes
food web to crash, interfering with the recreation and enjoyment of
millions of Americans, and costing the region billions of dollars.
Many scientists believe that invasive species are the worst problem
facing the Great Lakes, maybe worse than chemical pollution.

“As a result, effective controls on new discharges of invasive
species are a top priority of the Great Lakes Regional
Collaboration Strategy.”

The group, however, believes the State Disposal System permit
“establishes ongoing permit requirements (but) fails to establish a
procedure allowing for the enactment of stricter controls in the
event of emergency conditions.”

Clean Water Action also expresses concern about the fact that
full implementation doesn’t occur until 2016.

In May, Ramsey County District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled
in favor of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy in
ordering that the MPCA begin regulating vessel discharges by Oct.
1. In essence, Gearin ruled that ballast discharge must be treated
as water pollution, according to the MCEA.

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