Save the River, St. Lawrence Seaway Developers Debate

Members of Save the River and officials from the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. transformed a village board meeting into a debate on commercial navigation.

Members of Save the River and officials from the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. transformed a village board meeting into a debate on commercial navigation.

Seaway representatives, including Administrator Albert S. Jacquez, attended the regular Board of Trustees meeting to address questions from the village regarding the opening of the 2005 shipping season.

After about a 15-minute address by Mr. Jacquez, village trustees left the auditorium to continue with village business, and the nine Save the River members in attendance had almost two hours to question the administrator.

At many points, the two parties had to agree to disagree.

For example, Stephanie G. Weiss, executive director of Save the River, asked that the Seaway not break ice on the river to hasten the opening of the Seaway, citing state Department of Environmental Conservation claims that winter navigation damages the coastline, where many species of fish breed.

Mr. Jacquez said many federal and state organizations questioned the DEC's findings and added that the study is irrelevant because it applies only to an extended 10-month shipping season, which includes winter navigation, and not to the current nine-month shipping season, which ends in December and typically begins in late March.

"If you can give me more documents or substantiated evidence, we'll take it," the administrator said.

But science alone will not solve the issue.

Mr. Jacquez said the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., the Seaway's Canadian partner, would not allow the season to be shortened to wait for ice to melt; in fact, he said, the Seaway has blocked Canadian attempts to increase the season. The Canadian agency can discourage U.S. attempts to wait until the ice has cleared because it owns 13 of the 15 locks in the system.

"If I made a unilateral decision that did not take Canadian considerations in mind about issues such as the opening or closing date, I guarantee it would happen one time, and the next year the Canadian and U.S. state departments would get involved," he said.

Both Mr. Jacquez and Cary R. Brick, former chief of staff for Rep. David O'B. Martin, R-Canton, and Rep. John M. McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor, said getting the U.S. State Department involved would not be good for anyone living along the river.

"The devil I know is better than the devil in the State Department," Mr. Brick said.

Save the River members asked Mr. Jacquez why the Seaway has not tested a plan to clean up a chemical or oil spill during winter weather.

Mr. Jacquez said experts in Arctic oil spills reviewed the Seaway's plan, made recommendations, which the Seaway has pursued, and suggested that a test not be performed because it is too dangerous.

"Exactly, so what happens when there's an oil spill?" asked Andrew Greene, Ms. Weiss's husband. Mr. Jacquez said it's unlikely a ship will spill a volatile chemical during winter conditions because fewer ships are on the river, few ships carry dangerous chemicals and the broken ice makes a path that is easy to navigate.

He also answered the cries of many recent critics who have said the administrator does not answer questions. He said he has provided detailed information complete with explanations to all recent questions he has received about Seaway operations.

But despite Mr. Jacquez's statements, the Save the River members said they still believe the Seaway should treat the risk of environmental damage to the river more seriously.

"The only progress I can see is that more people had a chance to interact and talk about the issues," Ms. Weiss said after the meeting.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News