Public and private sector organizations make investments and implement policies and programs in the Great Lake-St.Lawrence maritime transportation system to improve and sustain their use. Federal money is spent to dredge harbors and channels, break up ice, and maintain critical locks and other infrastructure, ensuring the maritime system functions smoothly. States and provinces develop waterfronts for greater access to maritime shipping and boost economic development. Private organizations use resources to improve their cargo capacity and efficiency through ship and onshore investments.

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Actions to reform pilotage

 As pilotage represents a significant operational consideration for MTS users, its regulation, management and service delivery are of keen interest to the commercial maritime industry in both Canada and the United States. For its part, the Regional Maritime Strategy acknowledges the need for a new look at the pilotage delivery service structure and calls for a more open, collaborative process involving relevant governmental agencies and industry from both side of the border.

Shipowner investments in vessel fuel and technology

In order to improve fuel economy, reduce operating costs, and comply with emissions regulations, vessel operators in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Maritime Transportation System (MTS) have been investing in new vessels, new engines, and emission treatment systems. Some examples of recent emissions-related investments from MTS vessel operators include:

  • Canada Steamship Lines’ recently added six new Trillium class vessels to its Great Lakes fleet. These vessels have new hull designs intended to reduce fuel consumption, and new engine technology to reduce air emissions such as nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.
  • Interlake Steamship Company has repowered its steamships with more efficient engines and installed freshwater scrubbers to remove sulfur and particulate matter from engine exhaust. Interlake also utilizes excess engine heat to generate steam, helping to reduce air emissions associated with heating boilers. Interlake has also ordered a new vessel which will be equipped with newer, more efficient engines.
  • Algoma Central Corporation has added eight new Equinox class vessels to its domestic fleet, with an eighth scheduled for completion in 2019. In addition to being about 45% more fuel efficient than previous generations of vessels, these new vessels are outfitted with exhaust scrubbers that remove sulfur emissions.
  • Groupe Desgagnés has invested $200 million (CAD) to build four new tanker vessels equipped with dual-fuel engines that can be powered by liquefied natural gas, marine diesel, or heavy fuel oils. The use of natural gas as a primary fuel source means that these new vessels will emit about 25% less carbon dioxide, 85% less nitrogen oxide, and nearly no sulphur oxide or particulate matter.
  • American Steamship Company has installed scrubbers on at least two of its vessels.

In addition to these equipment investments, many Great Lakes vessel operators have chosen to purchase low-sulfur marine diesel fuel, which complies with regulations for the North American Emission Control Area established under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Asset Renewal Program

When the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 it was hailed as one of the world’s most ambitious achievements in maritime infrastructure. Fifty years hence, that infrastructure has shown signs of age, prompting the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) to unveil in 2009 a forward-looking Asset Renewal Program (ARP). Similar to the Army Corps’ ARP for the Soo Locks, the SLSDC’s objectives were to identify and address pressing long-term needs for the U.S. portion of the Seaway infrastructure, including two locks, the Seaway International Bridge near Cornwall, Ontario, maintenance dredging, operational systems, and SLSDC facilities in Massena, New York.  The program was deliberate in its commitment not to increase the authorized depth or width of the Seaway’s navigation channel, or the size of the two U.S. locks.

The SLSDC ARP was developed on the premise that a “perpetual infrastructure asset, such as a lock, requires a capital investment equivalent to its original cost over its design life, which is typically 50 years, in order to sustain itself.” The U.S. share of the Seaway’s construction cost was about $130 million in 1959 dollars, or about $1.1 billion today. Over the first ten years of the ARP, from 2009 to 2018, the SLSDC spent $152 million on some 50 projects, including such technologically innovative improvements as a hands-free mooring system to eventually be installed on both U.S. locks. Over the next five years, the SLSDC ARP proposes 58 more projects at an estimated cost of $83.7 million, dependent on annual U.S. Department of Transportation acceptance and federal budget appropriations. 

Ballast Water Treatment Systems

Systems capable of removing, rendering unviable, or killing live organisms in ballast water can help ensure that non-native species are not introduced to, or more quickly spread, throughout the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Maritime Transportation System (MTS). Canadian and U.S. agencies and shipowners are actively testing and evaluating ballast water treatment systems to meet the unique regulatory, environmental, and operational requirements that exist within the MTS. The selection of a suitable ballast water treatment system remains a significant challenge. Some particular challenging considerations include:

  • Most commercially-available systems are designed for operation in salt water.
  • Use and release of treatment chemicals (such as chlorine or brine) that may conflict with state or provincial water pollution standards.
  • Lake or river sediment that can clog filtration systems.
  • Limited space for treatment equipment installation aboard domestic vessels.
  • Voyages within the MTS are often shorter than ocean voyages, giving treatment systems less time to process large volumes of ballast water.

Management Practices for Ballast Water

The St. Lawrence Seaway is the primary potential route for the introduction of non-native species into the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Maritime Transportation System (MTS). In recognition of this vulnerability, the Seaway system has enacted the world’s most stringent ballast water management requirements.

The U.S. and Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway agencies require all ocean-going vessels entering the Seaway to comply with the Code of Best Practices for Ballast Water Management. This includes a requirement that all vessels entering the Seaway from overseas exchange or flush their ballast tanks at sea, which is intended to remove and kill any freshwater organisms before the vessel enters the Great Lakes. If ships do not flush their ballast water, they are required to retain the ballast water until they leave the Great Lakes, treat the ballast water, or return to sea to flush their tanks. Additionally, vessels that declare “no ballast on board” must ensure that residual water in their ballast tanks has either come from water properly exchanged at sea, or has been treated to meet international standards.

In addition to these mandatory requirements, vessels operating strictly on the Great Lakes and Seaway must regularly inspect their ballast tanks and remove accumulated sediment which could harbor unwanted flora and fauna.

U.S. Vessel Incidental Discharge Act

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) became law in December 2018 attempts to resolve these issues by directing the U.S. EPA to set national standards for ballast water and directs USCG to implement and enforce the standards. The new standards are to be promulgated within two years, with the associated USCG regulations to follow within another two years. The new regulations must be at least as stringent as current standards in the VGP. It pre-empts states from establishing separate discharge standards, although state standards can remain in place until the new federal standard is fully implemented and enforceable.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was first given authority to regulate ballast water to prevent the introduction and spread of AIS in 1990. However, the agency did not finalize comprehensive ballast water regulations until 2012. Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, U.S. states individually developed state-specific requirements related to the treatment and discharge of ballast water. Further, in 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated ballast water requirements under a Vessel General Permit (VGP). This action was taken following a 2006 U.S. District Court decision that the agency could no longer exempt vessel discharges from regulation under the Clean Water Act. This patchwork of regulations created an uncertain and complicated compliance environment for vessel owners operating on the Great Lakes. Major concerns included cost (due to separate application, certification, or registration processes for multiple states), and technical feasibility, as some treatment requirements exceeded the capabilities of current technology, among others.

VIDA recognizes the unique conditions in the Great Lakes. It maintains the requirement for ballast water exchange or flushing for ocean-going vessels entering the Seaway, and allows any Great Lakes governor to petition for a new standard or requirement, including new equipment or management practices, to address vessel discharges in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) is charged with assessing and assisting in the development of recommendations regarding any new proposed standards or requirements.

VIDA also established a new Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Invasive Species Program at U.S. EPA, authorized at $50 million annually. Among other purposes, this includes authority to develop and promote type-approved ballast water management systems for Laker vessels. A new Coastal Aquatic Invasive Species Mitigation Grant Program is established and funded by fines and federal appropriations to help states with inspection, monitoring, and enforcement programs.

Great Lakes Seaway Partnership

The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership was created to enhance public understanding of the benefits of commercial shipping in the Great Lakes Seaway region. In particular, the Partnership seeks to highlight the positive attributes of marine transportation through an education-focused communications program, research, and engagement with maritime stakeholders. Initial members of the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership were the Lake Carriers Association, Fednav, American Great Lakes Ports Association, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. The Partnership has published a number of reports on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Maritime Transportation System, including The Economic Impacts of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System (Martin Associates, July 2018); Infrastructure Investment Survey of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway System (Martin Associates, October 2015); Safety Profile of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System (Research & Traffic Group, March 2014); and Environmental and Social Impacts of Marine Transport in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Region (Research & Traffic Group, January 2013). These reports are available on the Seaway Partnership website and under Resources on the Blue Accounting Maritime Transportation website.

Great Waters Research Collaborative

The Great Waters Research Collaborative (GWRC) is a project of the University of Wisconsin-Lake Superior Research Institute devoted to objective, third-party research to support sustainable industrial, commercial and public use of the nation’s Great Waters, particularly via green shipping. Its primary focus is on preventing new ballast water introductions of invasive species in the Great Lakes. The GWRC executes type approval tests of ballast water management systems for U.S. Coast Guard type approval. It also monitors ship-mediated transfers of organisms in the Great Lakes and researches risks from ship-mediated invasive species introduction and spread. GWRC’s work is coordinated with ongoing private sector, state, federal and international policy activity. The GWRC includes researchers with the Lake Superior Research Institute, University of Minnesota-Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute, and AMI Consulting Engineers.

Canadian Ballast Water Regulations

Transport Canada (TC) is proposing updated ballast water regulations that will implement Canada’s obligations under the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments. The proposed regulations would apply to Canadian vessels everywhere and vessels in waters under Canadian jurisdiction. Subject vessels would be required to develop and implement a ballast water management plan and comply with a performance standard that would limit the number of organisms discharged by 2024. Vessels would need to obtain a certificate, keep records of ballast water operations, and be subject to inspections to verify compliance. While most vessels would need to install a ballast water management system (BWMS) to comply with the proposed regulations, smaller vessels would have the option of an equivalent compliance regime more tailored to their operations. The proposed regulations attempt to accommodate differences between the U.S. ballast water regulatory regime and the Convention by providing sufficient time for vessel owners to install BWMS for use in the North American market, and certainty that capital investments would be respected given the challenging water quality conditions on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. TC published the Proposed Regulatory Text and Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement on June 8, 2019 (Canada Gazette Part I, Volume 153, Number 23: Ballast Water Regulations).