LANSING—Despite a consensus on the environmental benefits of regulating
ballast water to combat aquatic invasive species, state and shipping industry
officials are less certain about the impact of regulation on Michigan’s
“To my knowledge, there’s been no complete analysis on effects specifically in Michigan,” said Roger Eberhardt, an environmental quality specialist with the Department of Quality’s (DEQ) Office of the Great Lakes.
The state Senate recently passed a bill to require all oceangoing vessels entering Michigan’s ports to obtain a ballast water permit, starting in January 2007.
Before a permit is issued, ships would have to show that they don’t discharge ballast water—a leading source of invasive species—or that they treat ballast water before it’s released.
General permits would cost $150 annually, plus a $75 application fee. Permits for $8,700 and a $750 application fee would be required if a ship uses ballast management practices that DEQ is unfamiliar with, according to DEQ public information officer Bob McCann.
Industry officials say that mandatory Michigan permits, rather than ones issued nationally or internationally could disadvantage the state economically.
“I see no benefit to regulating ballast water unless it’s through North American standards involving the federal government and Canada,” said Helen Brohl, executive director of the U.S. Great Lakes Shipping Association, based in Portage, Ind. “Even for vessels that are practicing tank management, this legislation says they aren’t welcome in Michigan.”
Foreign shipping accounts for 20 percent of maritime activity in Michigan, adding about $2 billion to the state economy.
Brohl said the legislation doesn’t take into account industry efforts to deal with the invasive species problem, such as a voluntary Code of Best Practices, established through the Shipping Federation of Canada.
The proposed state permit program “will not promote the development of treatment technologies any faster than what’s already underway,” she said. “I know the goal is to try and deal with this sooner rather than later, but people are frustrated that no magic solution has come forward.”
Brian McCaughrin, president of McCaughrin Maritime Marine Systems Inc. in Wayne, said that state permit fees, when combined with what he called high tolls for the St. Lawrence Seaway could lead some companies to direct ships elsewhere. His company charters 10 international vessels for clients across the country.
While the bill would let companies decide the best available treatment for each ship rather than mandating specific methods, there are unanswered questions about what options would be available by 2007, and how much they might cost.
McCann cited a study that reported a cost of $125,000 to equip a vessel to use sodium hypochlorite to kill aquatic organisms in ballast water.
And one of the largest shipping companies in the Great Lakes, Montreal-based Fednav Ltd., recently paid $700,000 for the prototype of a mechanical treatment process involving filtration, nitrogen saturation and other technologies.George Robichon, senior vice-president of Fednav, said the company hopes to finish testing by the end of 2006.
Robichon said he prefers an international approach to regulation, but that any standards will help.
“At the end of the day, we need standards for treatments that are biologically defensible,” he said, “and the development of technology is accelerated once companies have a standard to attain.”
But state officials said that they’ve received little comment from the shipping industry either, in favor of or in opposition against Michigan’s legislation.
"We’ve not heard much, either from shipping companies or any of the associations,” Eberhardt said. “But I would hope they’ve seen the handwriting on the wall that ballast water will be regulated, whether it’s at the state, national or international level.”
Sen. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck Township, who sponsored the bill, said permit fees wouldn’t be prohibitve.
"If we look at the alternative of not dealing with this, along with where the science is at on treatment, we feel this is doable for the shipping industry,” she said. “But I’ve heard nothing from those folks.”
The bill, which has Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s support, is pending in the House.