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Chamber says increased outflow from dam would halt Seaway shipping

Nov 25, 2019 02:15 PM

The move would cost the U.S. and Canada an estimated $193 million per week

The following is text of a news release from the Chamber of Marine Commerce:

(OTTAWA) — Closing the St. Lawrence Seaway in December to accommodate higher water outflow at the Moses-Saunders dam would cost the Canadian and U.S. economies $193 million per week — impacting farmers’ grain exports, manufacturing plant operations and disrupting deliveries of fuel, construction materials and road salt for winter safety to cites throughout the region.   

The Chamber of Marine Commerce is issuing these comments to provide a wider context of the economic repercussions related to calls to increase the water outflow at Moses-Saunders dam to levels that would be unsafe for navigation and halt shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway during December.   

Increasing outflows above the safe navigation limit to the highest levels possible would lower Lake Ontario levels less than 4 centimeters a week. In a closure situation, it would take more than two weeks to clear ship traffic and removal of buoys duties before outflows begin. Ice conditions could also prohibit maximum levels. This negligible reduction would come at a huge cost to commercial navigation.

“We have the greatest sympathy for Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River residents and business owners that have been impacted by flooding due to unprecedented weather conditions. This situation has also cost our supply chain millions of dollars,” said Chamber of Marine Commerce President Bruce Burrows. “Halting St. Lawrence Seaway shipping altogether would cause major harm to our economy and achieve no noticeable benefit for flooding victims. We call on the IJC (International Joint Commission) and government leaders to collaborate with affected stakeholders to find solutions that look at shoreline resiliency, flood management zones and what can be done during the winter when the St. Lawrence Seaway is closed to navigation.”

The costs of stopping commercial navigation at this critical point in December will significantly affect industries that have organized their supply chains around the Seaway’s shipping season. Even if companies were able to find alternative transportation (with this very short notice), this would cost considerably more and force huge volumes of cargo onto thousands of trucks at the detriment to the environment and road congestion.

The fall is the busiest grain export season right up to the end of December, and by March the elevator systems are normally full and pushing for Seaway vessels as soon as the system opens. U.S. and Canadian communities move road salt in great volumes at the end of the season and again at opening, as their inventories often struggle to make it through an entire winter.

“As residents ourselves of Great Lakes communities affected by flooding and storm damage, we share in the concern regarding record high water levels," said Deborah DeLuca, executive director, Duluth-Seaway Port Authority. "However, the minor water level relief that would result from increased December outflow through the Moses-Saunders dam would be negligible at best. Concurrently, increasing the outflow to levels unsafe for navigation would do immeasurable and long-term harm to producers and consumers throughout the entire Great Lakes region and the United States as a whole. We’re all eager for solutions, but opening the flow on a single dam in December isn’t a meaningful solution, especially when weighed against the associated adverse effects.”

Political leaders in U.S. Great Lakes states have lent their support to keep the St. Lawrence Seaway open as normal in December. Click here to read a letter from members of Congress from the Great Lakes region.

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