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DNR rule puts port development at risk

Sean Ryan

A Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ proposal to regulate ballast water threatens the ports the rules are designed to protect, said Superior Mayor Dave Ross.

“The governor’s push to so-called lead on this issue,” he said, “is going to cause Wisconsin ports to lag in terms of our job creation and our port development.”

But DNR spokesman Adam Collins said port development will be fine. The proposed rules would require shipping companies this spring start buying permits to dump ballast water, he said. But rules requiring treatment of water before it is dumped into harbors would not go into effect until 2012 or until technology is created to help companies meet the standards, Collins said.

“We believe the state permits can help us protect our waterways from aquatic invasive species,” he said, “and continue to allow us to have a robust shipping industry.”

Peavey Co., which is in the Superior port, was planning an improvement project for its grain silos, but the company now is wondering if it will be worth the investment if the ballast rules take effect, said Rick Yabroff, director of environmental safety for Peavey’s parent company, Gavilon Grain LLC, Omaha, Neb. He said the company wants to have a final answer in time for its testimony at a DNR public hearing Monday.

“That’s exactly what we’re currently evaluating is how (the ballast rules) would affect our business in that facility,” Yabroff said, “and therefore what kind of investment we want to make into any improvements.”

After thanking the state for a $3.7 million grant to support construction of new dock walls for Fraser Shipyards Inc., Ross said Fraser and other Wisconsin maritime companies will be in trouble if the proposed ballast rules take effect. The city’s port shares the same Lake Superior harbor as Duluth, Minn. The proposed Wisconsin rules are more stringent than those in Minnesota, Ross said, and would push ships — and the jobs and port projects that support them — out of Wisconsin.

“To make Wisconsin ports less competitive than ports in our own harbor is anti-jobs,” said Ross.

The DNR’s proposed permits and ballast treatments, which would take effect in 2012, would be 100 to 1,000 times higher than limits adopted in Minnesota.

Adolph Ojard, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said Ross is right to worry about losing business to Duluth or other ports. The technology to treat water to the standards the DNR will require do not exist, he said.

“(Shipping companies) would weigh the costs as well as the impact on operations of your vessel and the permitting requirements,” Ojard said. “If your ship is not even able to do business in Wisconsin, I guess you would stop in Chicago or Indiana or even Duluth.”

Collins said if the technology does not exist in 2012, the state will adopt the Minnesota standards, which are modeled on the International Maritime Organization’s proposals.

“We obviously want to spur innovation and technological advances in the area, which would be very positive,” he said.

Collins said the DNR is accepting comments on the permitting system until Monday and wants the program up and running in time for the spring shipping season, which will heat up next month.

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