A bill requiring treatment of ballast water from oceangoing ships on the Great Lakes received a public hearing Wednesday at the Capitol. Todd Ambs with the state Department of Natural Resources says ballast water may be responsible for the introduction of up to seventy percent of invasive species in the Great Lakes. “It is a very significant problem, and I haven’t heard anybody in the room say we don’t need to address it, it’s just how do we do it in a way that makes sense,” Ambs told the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.
But officials and workers from the ports of Superior and Milwaukee don’t think the proposal makes sense. They worry that if Wisconsin enacts legislation, and other states don’t, their ports will lose millions of dollars worth of shipping. “We are not here to say ‘save our jobs, to hell with the lake.’ We care about that lake.We are fishermen and hunters, too, and we want a healthy state,” said Tom Schwartz, a longshoreman at the Port of Milwaukee. But, added Schwartz, “we would like to be able to work in the state as well. Vessels will simply call at Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois, rather than meet stringent restrictions proposed only by the state of Wisconsin.” The bill’s language calls for implementation of ballast water cleaning technology within seven months of being signed into law, but Phil Smith, another Milwaukee longshoreman, said shippers will almost certainly stop offloading in Milwaukee sooner than that. The longshoremen said that, even if other states eventually enact similar legislation, it will be extremely difficult for Wisconsin ports to recapture the cargo stream from the ocean going ships, known on the Great Lakes as “salties.”
The DNR’s Ambs told committee members that the agency wants to employ a “commercially viable” technology to treat ballast water from the salties, which enter the lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway. “If you’ve got a technology that exists within the laboratory, that could work, but it’s going to cost so much to put it on a particular facility that the facility would go out of business . . . that’s not a commercially viable technology.” Potential methods to treat ballast water could include filtration, thermal treatment, ultraviolet light, biocides or others approved by the DNR.