CLEVELAND (TDB) -- Ohio's largest private environmental organization has signed on with a coalition calling for a ban of ocean-going freighters on the Great Lakes until Congress enacts stiff requirements that would protect the lakes from invasive species. Right now, there are 185 non-native species known to have found homes in North America's freshwater inland seas, and scientists believe 54 arrived by way of ballast water discharges from ocean-going ships. Large seagoing freighters first gained access to the lakes in 1959 when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened.
The Ohio Environmental Council says Congress has dallied while the problems get worse and the solutions grow more costly. It said obtaining strong legislation is its top priority for the lakes this year, and said environmentalists can no longer be complacent about the aquatic degradation.
John Marshall, the Ohio Environmental Council's board president, told members in a newsletter this month that his group is concerned more damage can be done by yet-to-arrive creatures joining foreign pests such as zebra and quagga mussels and round gobi. Meanwhile, the OEC newsletter reported:
"Invasive species are the most pressing issues facing the Great Lakes region, causing more than $5 billion a year in damages. The true cost, however, extends far beyond that. They pose an unrelenting threat to the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem and economy . . .
"Once a new species establishes itself, it is almost impossible to remove and incredibly difficult to contain. In instances where an invasive species is controlled, efforts must be sustained over the long term to keep it from making a comeback. Continued introductions and the spread of already established species will only compound the challenged and costs of dealing with invasive species unless something is done immediately to stop the problem at its source."
A letter went out to Congress in May from a coalition of green groups that demanded action and called for the shipping moratorium. If the moratorium ever takes hold, it would add about $5 billion in alternative shipping costs each year to move cargo that now is carried by ocean-going vessels that sail upon the lakes. Trains, trucks, barges and traditional laker steamships presumably would pick up the slack -- so the ban might add revenues and profits to those types of domestic transportation businesses. Virtually every oceangoing ship on the lakes sails under a foreign flag. The $5 billion estimate is from the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, which supports the proposed moratorium.