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Winter Icebreaking on the St. Lawrence River?

August 18th, 2016 | Posted by Lee

2013 Ice on the River at Clayton“We [Save The River and the River community] remain vigilant to any renewed efforts for destructive ice-breaking for winter shipping and we stand ready to block it again.”

In a August 17 story by Brian Kelly the Watertown Daily Times covers the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers Maritime Transportation Strategy that, among other things, “suggests ways the shipping season could be extended.”

Ice-breaking on the St. Lawrence River has not and will not be appropriate – either economically or environmentally.

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Transporting oil via pipelines carries risks

March 1st, 2016 | Posted by admin

Originally published in the Watertown Daily Times on March 1, 2016, from Lee Willbanks Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Save The River Executive Director.

In response to Wednesday’s editorial: “Cruising to Disaster“, Save The River would like to express our enthusiastic support of the editors’ position on the dangers and inappropriate risks of winter navigation on the St. Lawrence River. . . [however] while pipelines may be safer, they are by no means fail safe.

Click here for the full text of the Riverkeeper’s letter.

Kalamazoo River Spill (from EPA)

Kalamazoo River Spill (from EPA)

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Oil Shipments, Winter Navigation, Seaway Expansion – Oh My!

February 23rd, 2016 | Posted by admin


from today’s Watertown Daily Times story by Brian Kelly,

Revival of old idea(s) meets resistance

Some bad old ideas never seem to die. But to couple it with a new really bad idea – oil shipments on the St. Lawrence River – is no joke.

For the entire bad story click here:

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Thousand Islands shipping halted after sugar freighter runs aground

April 21st, 2015 | Posted by admin

Published by the Watertown Daily Time on April 21, 2015

“Shipping along the St. Lawrence Seaway has been halted after a freighter carrying sugar ran aground under the Thousand Islands Bridge early Monday.

Lt. Brian T. Hillman, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard based in Buffalo, said the 621-foot-long freighter, named Juno, called for help about 1 a.m. Monday. No cargo or fuel was spilled into the waterway, he said, and no crew injuries were reported.

The Coast Guard said Monday evening the vessel was listing slightly to port with 18 feet of water in the forward peak of the vessel.

The ship, flagged in the Bahamas, was heading toward Toronto. It is owned and operated by Polska Zeg Luga Morska, P.P., a subsidiary of the O’Brien’s Group. The pilot was fully licensed.

Lt. Hillman said Coast Guard and company crews are investigating the cause of the stoppage, assessing damage to the vessel as they wait for a salvage team that is en route.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi A. Read, based in Cleveland, said three ships were stopped because of the Juno’s grounding.

He said the Juno might not be able to leave the area until Wednesday, and the crew will stay on board the freighter in the interim.

Monday afternoon, environmental group Save the River noted the Juno was the second grounding of the just-launched season, and criticized the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. for listing the waterway as “Highway H2O.”

“If the shippers want to share the use of this river with the rest of us, they must exhibit their ability to do it safely,” D. Lee Willbanks, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Too much is at stake for the environment and our communities who rely on a healthy river.”

On April 3, the bulk carrier CWB Marquis went aground near Beauharnois, Quebec, Canada, after hitting a large ice floe.”

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Cost of an Oil Spill Too High

February 20th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

The clean up cost of oil spills has come into question as more crude oil is being transported across the US and Canada. With recent train derailments causing oil spills and explosions, the damage that can be caused by oil transport is becoming more apparent.

Monday February 16th a train carrying 3 millions gallons of Bakken crude oil derailed in West Virginia. The train consisted of 109 tanker cars, 26 of which had been derailed. Of the 26 derailed cars, all of which were built to new higher standards following the tragic Lac Megantic derailment, 19 were involved in a fire that was still ablaze on Wednesday, two days after the initial crash. Crude oil was also spilled into the Kanawha River. Several 100 people were left without drinking water and with winter weather impacting the area a timely response for clean up was not an option.

The risk of an oil spill on the St. Lawrence River is an emerging threat as companies seek ways to transport the hug buildup of Bakken and tar sands oil. One oil tanker can carry the equivalent product of 225 rail cars or 870 trucks. If a ship carrying oil on the River was involved in an incident, a spill might not be the worse that could happen. In any case the end results would be devastating and the damage unimaginable.

The Council of Canadians and Équiterre have issued a new report that make it clear that an oil spill in Lac Saint-Pierre on the St. Lawrence River, where tar sands oil has already been shipped, would cost billions to clean up – far more than the liability limit in Canada.

The environmental impact would be devastating to this UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve recognized as a wetland of international importance. Lac Saint-Pierre is a drinking water source and home to 27 species of rare plants, 79 species of fish, and 288 species of waterfowl. Although down river from Montreal, it stands as a chilling illustration of what could happen on some of the most difficult to navigate sections of the St. Lawrence between Kingston – Cape Vincent and the Seaway locks at Massena.

“Lac Saint-Pierre is a treasure and a wonder in the area. One oil spill could be the death of it all for future generations,” says Steven Guilbeault of Équiterre. “Given the high environmental price of a spill, diluted bitumen shipments should not be permitted on the St. Lawrence River.”

Shipments of diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands are expected to increase as oil giant Suncor and pipeline company TransCanada ramp up exports from ports on the St. Lawrence River. Bitumen from the tar sands is extremely difficult to contain and clean up when spilled on water as it tends to sink to the bottom.

The study also reports that in the event of an oil spill, emergency response would be limited by ice conditions and inadequate capacity of the small private company responsible for oil spill cleanup on the St. Lawrence. Under normal conditions, a spill could travel the length of Lac Saint-Pierre in eight hours – far quicker than a response can be mounted.

“We should be reducing the amount of oil shipped on the St. Lawrence, not increasing it,” says Mark Calzavara of the Council of Canadians. “Doubling the number of supertankers and doubling their size means that a disastrous oil spill is just a matter of time.”

The report recommends reducing the allowable ship size and number of exports, increasing emergency response capacity, removing the liability limit, and making the exporting company jointly responsible for damages.

The report is available at:

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Can Alberta Sands oil be safely shipped on the St. Lawrence?

February 10th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

By Julia Botero                                                                                                                                         Published on February 10, 2015 by North Country Public Radio

Crude oil from the Midwest is moved by pipeline and rail across the United States and through parts of New York’s North Country. Some companies are interested in shipping oil to East Coast refineries by way of the St. Lawrence River.

At a conference organized last weekend by the Thousand Islands-based group, Save the River, environmentalists voiced concern over the potential of a catastrophic oil spill.

The St. Lawrence River is frozen solid right now, but when spring arrives tankers will begin their slow journey up and down the waterway. The tankers carry huge amounts of heavy raw materials like grain, iron, and coal to ports in the United States and Canada. Only a few shipments of crude oil from Alberta Sands in Canada and the Bakken in North Dakota have come through the seaway, but environmentalists and state official are concerned more will come. Lee Willbanks, director of Save the River said, “This is a huge issue because there is a lot of oil in different forms being extracted in the Midwest in our country and in Alberta Canada. And right now there is more oil coming out of the ground then has a conduit to a refinery.”

Gary McCullough, with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said, “Fundamentally my concern is that spills on the St. Lawrence River would be extremely challenging to clean up.” Mcllouch said that is because the river’s current is really strong. “The oil will move on the water faster than we have the ability to contain it. If you lost a large amount of oil on Alexandria Bay, that oil has already transversed to Massena.”

McCullough mentioned the Nepco spill of 1976. A massive barge carrying thick motor oil ran aground and spilled 500,000 gallons. “You can still see oil strips on rocks up in Ogdensburg, Lisbon area,” he said.

McCullough said much of that oil floated. The oil from the Tar Sands, on the other hand, is much heavier and may not float. Oil that sinks causes more damage because it is almost impossible to completely remove from a river floor. Emma Lui, with the Council of Canadians, said the company Suncor has already shipped Alberta Tar Sands oil along the River this past fall. Lui said, “The shipments that happen with Suncor really set a precedent for other shipments to happen.”

Lui said her organization released a study that found the cost to clean up just 10 percent of the oil from a Suncor tanker would be more than the Canadian government can afford. “We are not prepared nationally and locally — the mayors in the communities aren’t prepared either and if we aren’t prepared we should be doing this.“

Lee Willbanks said talking about the worst case scenarios when it comes to shipping oil can, at the very least, make those in charge think before they act. “It is really shame on us if we as a community don’t demand this discussion and have it in every level of government before we ship this,” he said.

The current low price of oil means shippers aren’t moving much, but that could change by the time the seaway reopens for navigation in March.

for oil post












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Panel to Discuss Oil Transport at Winter Environmental Conference

January 23rd, 2015 | Posted by admin

Oil shipments on the St. Lawrence River are already an unpleasant reality. However, the dramatically increased extraction of heavy oil and bitumen from the Alberta tar sands has lead to increased pressure to transport these cargoes on and near the River. These volatile cargoes pose new and alarming threats to the River as the unique chemical characteristics make them difficult to handle and recover if spilled.

Cardi Report Image

A panel of experts will examine the implications of moving these new, toxic cargoes on and near the St. Lawrence River. The panel will include Kushan Dave, Cornell University, co-author of the recently published report “A New Era of Crude Oil Transport”, Emma Lui, National Water Campaigner, Council of Canadians, Anthony Mangoni, District Response Advisory Team Supervisor, Ninth Coast Guard District, and Gary McCullough, Regional Spill Engineer, NYS DEC Region 6.

There will also be a visual presentation about the source of this potential new cargo by Alex MacLean.

Save The River’s 26th Winter Environmental Conference will be held on Saturday February 7th, 2015 at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel.

For more information and how to register visit our Winter Environmental Conference webpage.

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55th Anniversary of the Seaway Opening

June 26th, 2014 | Posted by admin

Seaway Opening

JUNE 26, 1959: The Queen opened the 2,300-mile St Lawrence Seaway on this day in 1959. A lot has changed since then, but our water levels plan has not. Let’s hope this is the last anniversary with the outdated, destructive plan in place.

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Announcement of Spring Icebreaking Operations Along the St. Lawrence River

March 19th, 2014 | Posted by Lee

We received the following from the Canadian Coast Guard

Please pay attention to the announced dates of icebreaking activities and be very mindful of conditions when on the ice.

Notice of Public Interest

Spring Icebreaking Operations Along the St. Lawrence Seaway

MONTREAL, Quebec – The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) is working closely with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation in planning the Spring 2014 icebreaking operations in both the Seaway and on the Great Lakes.

The Canadian Coast Guard, in partnership with the United States Coast Guard and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), is advising residents and visitors near the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence Seaway that annual spring icebreaking operations will begin on or around March 21, 2014.

  • The Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Martha L. Black, icebreaker, will enter the Seaway via the St. Lambert Locks (Quebec) on March 21 and make its way up the St. Lawrence River.

  • The CCGS Martha L. Black will be icebreaking in the Brockville (Ontario) area on or about March 22-23 and will proceed to Lake Ontario, where it will then assist with harbour breakouts in Picton NGCC_MARTHA_L._BLACK_au_port_de_Rimouski(Ontario) and Bath (Ontario). Once these harbours have been opened, the CCGS Martha L. Black will return downriver to assist with shipping in anticipation of the official opening of the Seaway, currently scheduled for March 31, 2014.

  • The CCGS Pierre Radisson will enter the Seaway on March 24, making its way to the Great Lakes to provide additional icebreaking capacity to the area.

The CCG strongly recommends that fishermen and snowmobilers and other recreational users leave the ice immediately if they see an icebreaker in the vicinity. The ice may move or break apart even at a significant distance, creating a hazard for anyone in the area of an icebreaker. All personal property, temporary structures and recreational equipment, should also be moved to shore well before these dates.

All dates and routes are subject to change with little or no notice due to operational requirements or sudden and significant changes to weather and ice conditions.

The 2013-2014 winter has produced unusually heavy and persistent ice conditions throughout the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Canadian Coast Guard crews and icebreakers have been working hard to provide icebreaking services during such a challenging time.

Public service announcements made prior to impending icebreaker and shipping activity are issued for the safety of all ice surface users, who can expect disrupted and unstable ice conditions related to icebreaking and shipping operations.

Quick Facts

  • Icebreaking operations and shipping traffic create fragmented ice or open water that may be: difficult to see from afar; may be obscured by newly fallen snow; may not refreeze immediately and may be further weakened due to changes in weather.

  • Icebreaking creates locally unstable ice conditions or open water that may persist long after ships have left the area.

  • All ice near icebreaking operations and shipping activity should be considered unsafe.

  • Canadian Coast Guard and United States Coast Guard assets in the Great Lakes are working hard together to maintain or open routes for maritime commerce, despite extreme and persistent ice conditions on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.


Rachelle Smith

Communications Manager

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Canadian Coast Guard

Central and Arctic Region

(204) 983-4197


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Seaway Opening Delayed to March 31.

March 18th, 2014 | Posted by Lee

Seaway Notice 8

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