By ALLISON MIRIANI
Capital News Service
LANSING — Residents living on the shores of the Great Lakes may have safer waters now that a program has been launched to help slow or stop the spread of harmful aquatic species.
The No. 1 threat to the long-term ecology of the Great Lakes is foreign organisms, according to Melissa Samuel, the legislative aide to Sen. Ken Sikkema, R-Grandville.
Sikkema designed legislation that will require the Ballast Water Reporting Program to be followed by all vessels traveling through the Great Lakes.
Ballast is placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability, but the discharge of this water can lead to the spread of harmful organisms such as ruffe, zebra mussels and goby in the lakes.
The legislation, signed last August, requires all owners and operators of vessels to provide a form that shows whether they are meeting the standards set by the Lake Carriers’ Association and the Canadian Ship Owners Association.
The form includes information about activities that help to prevent the new introduction of species, said Jim Bredien, assistant to the director of the state Office of the Great Lakes. The office will be in charge of the program and following up on forms and vessels.
Rep. Barb Vander Veen, R-Allendale, said that the new program is very important. Much of her district is along Lake Michigan.
“The lake shore covers my entire district and to me is Western Michigan,” Vander Veen said. “It is very important for tourism; it’s our atmosphere for our homes; it’s where our residents spend their hot summer days and people come from all over the country to see our vast expanse of fresh water.”
Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus added that Michigan’s economy would be enhanced by the removal of nuisance species. Posthumus signed the legislation to authorize the program because Gov. John Engler was out of the state at the time.
“These species don’t belong in the Great Lakes. We don’t want them in the Great Lakes,” Posthumus said. “And for the health of our water and our economy, we need to stop them from coming in.”
Although many people are happy with the law now, many people in the shipping industry opposed the original legislation, according to Samuel.
“Their biggest fear was that there would be a patchwork across the Great Lakes with so many different regulations and they wouldn’t be able to ship in Michigan,” Samuel said.
Georges Robichon, senior vice president of Fednav Limited, a shipping company in Montreal, Canada, was one of those who originally opposed the proposal.
“The original bill would have killed all shipping on the Great Lakes,” Robichon said. “It imposed requirements that are impossible to meet.” Robichon spoke against the bill at committee meetings, but is now happy with the legislation that was created.
The industry is pleased with anything that is done by legislators in cooperation with companies in the shipping industry to help protect the Great Lakes, Robichon said.
Another aspect of the law that ship owners must understand involves receiving grants. Any operator or owner of a vessel that does not comply with the list of best management practices will not be eligible to receive new grants, loans or awards administered by the Department of Environmental Quality after March 1.
Those who favor the law hope that it will be an incentive to comply with the standards.
“I think it is good,” Vander Veen said. “The fact that the stakes are pretty hefty helps to keep people motivated to comply.”
Robichon said that Fednav Limited won’t be affected by this section of the law because the company is based in Canada, but said it could encourage those vessels shipping to U.S. companies to comply with all the ballast water standards.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ALLISON MIRIANI