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Coast Guard not prepared for a ”heavy” oil spill on the St. Lawrence River

September 19th, 2014 | Posted by Lindsey

“Response plans and organization are not capable of responding to heavy oil spills” according to Rear Admiral Fred Midgette, commander of the Coast Guard’s District 9, which includes the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.

A recent Detroit Free Press article highlighted the findings of a June 2013 Coast Guard report that was “frank on the limitations in dealing with heavy oil that sinks below the surface and makes traditional skimming recovery methods ineffective.” Noting that the report states “Current methods are inadequate to find and recover submerged oil, with responders having to reinvent the techniques on each occasion,” and “responses to recent higher profile submerged oil spills have shown responders have almost no capability in detection and recovery.”

Abay Oil Spill

We on the River know all too well what it means when agencies that are supposed to be prepared aren’t and events occur which exceed training and resources. Oil and water didn’t mix 38 years ago when the NEPCO 140 spilled 300,000 gallons of oil on the St. Lawrence River and they won’t today. But even the disastrous spill of ‘76 would pale in comparison to a spill of the heavier oils that may soon be shipped on the River and Great Lakes.

The Coast Guard and local first responders must be given the tools and resources necessary to develop appropriate action plans and the equipment and training to effectively implement them in the face of massive amounts of “extreme” energy waiting to get to overseas markets.      Alexandria Bay coated by the NEPCO spill, 1976

Kurt Hansen, a project manager at the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center at New London, Conn. quoted in a recent Detroit Free Press Article, stated “‘Once the [heavy] oil goes below the surface, that sets a whole new set of problems. You’re going to have to figure out if it’s coming back up in tiny little droplets, because that’s going to need one set of recovery response and surveillance. Or, if it goes to the bottom in a clump, that’s going to need another set of response. And if it mixes with the silt and sand and dirt at the bottom, that’s going to need even a third set of response and information that you need.”

Another major oil spill will spell environmental and economic disaster for the St. Lawrence River and the communities that depend on its well being, severely damaging the fishing and recreational boating and killing off wildlife.

Its a lesson the River community hasn’t forgotten and we must make sure our elected officials, decision makers, shippers, the Coast Guard, the Seaway and energy executives don’t either. Before Bakken crude, tar sands oil or other extreme energy moves on the St. Lawrence River there must be a thorough and rigorous examination of the potential impacts and extensive public involvement.

Read the full article from the Detroit Free Press.

For more information on this and other pressing issues in the Great Lakes region click here.

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Great Lakes racing to prepare for a new kind of oil spill-WBEZ Radio Chicago

September 16th, 2014 | Posted by Lindsey

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Ninth District is in charge of protecting the maritime interests of the Great Lakes. Those interests include industries like shipping, fishing, and tourism that create billions of dollars in revenue for the Great Lakes basin each year. And so, the agency is always thinking about oil spills. It conducts dozens of tabletop and real world preparation exercises every year to prepare.

But the oil spill game is changing.The explosion in tar sands production in western Canada means increasing amounts of crude oil is making its way to the American Midwest. Imports of crude oil to the Midwest reached a record high earlier this month, according to the Energy Information Association. Tar sands bitumen is different than traditional crude oil. It’s heavier and it sinks in freshwater. And that has caught the attention of the people in charge of cleaning up oil spills, including the U.S. Coast Guard.

“The Midwest and the Great Lakes lie at a virtual crossroads of production and transportation and distribution. And because those things carry inherent risk. we’re faced with some tough questions about how to deal with that,” says Rear Admiral Fred Midgette, who commands the U.S. Coast Guard’s Ninth District.

“From my perspective, clearly one of the most important things that are going to happen in the next decade is how we handle this issue of heavy oil. We need to get it right,” he told a crowd last week in Detroit at the International Spill Control Organization’s annual forum. ISCO has been around for decades, but this was the first time its annual forum focused exclusively on responding to heavy, Group V oils that can sink in water.

The reason why has a lot to do with what happened four years ago in the small town of Marshall, Michigan. On July 26, 2010, a 30-inch pipeline belonging to Enbridge Energy Partners LLP burst and spilled over a million gallons of tar sands oil into Talmadge Creek. From there, it made its way to the Kalamazoo River where it traveled over 35 miles downstream, coating birds, turtles, and other wildlife with oil.

Cleaning up the river took longer than anyone expected. That’s because tar sands oil is too thick to move through a pipeline on its own–imagine a kind of shiny, black peanut butter. It’s thinned out with other chemicals to get it flowing. But when the mixture is exposed to air, those chemicals gradually evaporate over a period of several days or weeks. At the Kalamazoo River, that left behind over a million gallons of heavy, sticky goo at the river bottom. Crews are finally wrapping up the dredging process four years and nearly $1 billion later.

“I can’t speak for a lot of the other players, but I know for us the EPA response and the Enbridge response to the Kalamazoo, I think opened a lot of people’s eyes in that the threat is real from heavy oils and what they can do to the environment,” says Jerry Popiel, incident management advisor for the Coast Guard’s 9th District.

Popiel says there aren’t any vessels carrying tar sands crude oil on the Great Lakes right now, but at least one company–Calumet Specialty Products Partners in Indianapolis–has expressed interest in the idea. And that has Popiel thinking about the challenges of responding to a such a spill in the Great Lakes.

“It’s one thing when you have 10 feet of water, 5 feet of water, or maybe 30 feet of water. Well, okay there are tethers and things and divers you might potentially use for there. That’s one set of problems. If it happens in Lake Superior in 800 feet of water, that’s a different set of problems,” he says.

Right now, those are problems without good solutions. The Coast Guard’s trying to change that, and so is a whole industry that’s grown up to respond to oil spills. In 2011, the Coast Guard awarded $2.5 million to three companies. They were asked to develop technologies that could better detect and recover sinking oils.

Some of those technologies were on display at last week’s forum, including one fromAlion Science and Technology called the Seagoing Adaptable Heavy Oil Recovery System or the SEAHORSE. The SEAHORSE looks more like a giant carburetor than a dainty ocean creature. But Al Arsenault, an engineer with the company, says it’s safer and more effective than traditional methods.

“The scenarios in the past have used divers. It’s a dirty job, it’s a very dangerous job to send divers down when this product is on the water column, on the surface, and on the bottom. It sticks to you like peanut butter,” Arsenault explains.

The SEAHORSE doesn’t use any divers. Instead, its trio of remotely operated vehicles scans the seafloor for oil and pumps it back up to the surface. SEAHORSE and other new technologies let responders reach spills hundreds of feet under water and can detect and recover oil at the same time. The Coast Guard says these new technologies are promising, but they aren’t widely available and can be costly to build.

Emergency responders in our region may still have some time to sort out those problems. It isn’t clear yet that Great Lakes shipping is going to be a good option for moving tar sands oil. For one thing, the lakes are frozen over for several months every year.

“The other big issue is competition. Shipping oil on the Great Lakes will make sense if it’s less expensive than shipping it by rail,” says Steve Fisher, Executive Director of the American Great Lakes Port Association.

Fisher says a lot would have to change before tankers full of tar sands crude oil set sail on the Great Lakes. It would require the oil industry to make long-term commitments with shipping companies to entice them to make investments in new ships and shoreside loading facilities.

Still, environmentalists say economic pressures are building.

Several refineries in the region, including one just south of Chicago in Whiting, Indiana, have been upgraded to process tar sands oil. Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program Director at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, says shipping by vessel on the lakes also opens up a route for transport to refineries on the East Coast.

Welch says right now, a lot of the decisions that could set the scene for shipping this kind of oil on the Great Lakes are happening at a state or local level. And he says that patchwork approach could have consequences for the entire region.

“A spill could happen anywhere, not just in the state where the initial dock is built to allow for this shipment,” says Welch.

The dock he’s referring to is owned by Elkhorn Industries in Superior, Wisconsin. The company reapplied for a permit to upgrade the dock in August after its first application was rejected by the state earlier this year. It’s considered a first step in the project proposed by Calumet Specialty Products, though Elkhorn says they don’t have concrete plans to partner with the company yet.

But the possibility that it could worries Welch, who says existing spill response preparation measures are inadequate when it comes to responding to a spill of tar sands oil.

There are increasing efforts to beef up those measures. Emergency responders like the Coast Guard and EPA are starting to include heavy oil spills in their preparation exercises. And the spill response industry continues to develop new and better technology for dealing with heavy oil spills.

But Welch says we shouldn’t accept the shipment of tar sands oil on the Great Lakes as inevitable, even as we work out the regulatory kinks.

“It’s vital that our Great Lakes region and community has a discussion as to whether the Great Lakes should become this thoroughfare for tar sands crude oil shipping. Are we prepared to accept that risk?”

That’s not a question, Welch says, for industry or government, but for each of the 34 million people who call the Great Lakes basin home.

Published by WBEZ Radio Chicago on September 15, 2014 on www.wbez.org.

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Save The River Executive Director Attends Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference

September 16th, 2014 | Posted by Lindsey

Lee Willbanks, Save The River Executive Director and Upper St.Lawrence Riverkeeper attended the 10th Annual Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan last week as a presenter and participant.  Mr. Willbanks was part of a panel examining the impact of aquatic invasive species on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and the pathways by which they have been introduced.

stop aquatic hitchhikers

Following his presentation, which focused on the role the Saint Lawrence Seaway played in bringing at least 56 invasive species to the River and Lakes, he was interviewed by Detroit Public Television on the same subject. Also presenting with Mr. Willbanks was Lindsay Chadderton, Aquatic Invasive Species Director, at Lakes.The Nature Conservancy, and Rudi Strickler, PhD, Shaw Distinguished Professor, Biological Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The panel was moderated by Nate Drag, Watershed Project Coordinator in New York, Alliance for the Great Lakes.

For Mr. Willbanks’ interview with Detroit Public Television go to: http://ow.ly/BwUP4

More than 350 Great Lakes advocates attended the conference that has been held annually since 2005. In addition to the panel on invasive species, there were presentations on controlling harmful algal blooms in Western Lake Erie and elsewhere in the region, the implications of increased crude oil shipping on the Great Lakes, how small plastic pollution is threatening the Great Lakes ecosystem and what’s being done to curb the problem, and mapping the value of the Great Lakes to communities around the region to better target restoration investments.

The Great Lakes Coalition, which Save The River has been an active member of for many years, consists of more than 115 environmental, conservation, and outdoor recreation organizations; zoos, aquariums, and museums representing millions of people who share a common goal: restoring and protecting North America’s greatest freshwater resources, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

For more information about the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition go to: www.healthylakes.org

The St. Lawrence River connects the Great Lakes to the rest of the world. It is estimated that since the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 at least 65% of the invasive species introduced to the Great Lakes have come from ocean going ships entering via the River. Save The River and the Great Lakes Coalition both are working to control and prevent the spread of invasive species.

For more information about Save The River go to: www.savetheriver.org

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Riverkeeper Volunteer Training in Massena set for Wednesday, September 24th

September 8th, 2014 | Posted by Kate

The next Riverkeeper Volunteer Training will be held in the Massena area on Wednesday, September 24th at 6:00pm at the NYSDEC St. Lawrence Habitat Project office located at 1003 County Route 39, Chase Mills, NY 13621.

As the Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper, Save The River is the primary voice and advocate for the health of the River and the right to clean water from the River’s beginning in the vicinity of Cape Vincent to the Massena / Cornwall area. To cover an area that large it relies on volunteers to be its eyes and ears on the water.

Riverkeeper volunteers will be trained to assess potential pollution problems and to effectively report these problems to the appropriate agencies. Volunteers will receive training to recognize wildlife die-offs, invasive species and subtle changes in the River that indicate negative and positive impacts to this fragile and already stressed ecosystem.  Attendees will also have the opportunity to learn more about the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area and Save The River.

Since Save The River began its Riverkeeper Monitoring Program in 2008, over 750 volunteers have been trained and now use the skills they have acquired to monitor the River.

Attending this hour-long training session is all that is needed to become a Riverkeeper volunteer. All volunteers will be given Save The River’s Riverkeeper Identification Guide as an on-the-water guidebook and a free t-shirt.  This training is free and open to the public.

Since 1978 Save The River has been the leading grassroots advocacy organization working to protect the St. Lawrence River by campaigning to stop aquatic invasive species, fighting winter navigation, and promoting an environmentally friendly water levels plan. Save The River also organizes the water restoration and monitoring programs that track River health and identify pollution problems. Save The River is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance™

Interested volunteers should contact Save The River, 315-686-2010 or e-mail Kate Breheny, Program Manager at kate@savetheriver.org.

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Save The River Wraps Up Summer Beach Watch Program: Reports Water Quality Good in 2014

September 5th, 2014 | Posted by Kate

This summer, Save The River volunteers monitored water quality at six popular swimming areas along the St. Lawrence River for unsafe levels of E.coli. during a nine week period from July to August. Water quality at every beach was good all summer long this year. Water samples were collected and tested at Wilson Bay in Cape Vincent, Frink Dock in Clayton, Potter’s Beach on Grindstone Island, Lake of the Isles near Wellesley Island, Round Island near Clayton, and Scenic View Park in Alexandria Bay. Each week, Save The River shared the results in the T.I. Sun and on social media.

Several organizations and volunteers provided key support to the Beach Watch program this summer.  Ben Lauraine, a Save The River intern, Jean and Ron Daly, Brandon Hollis, Mary and Tom Mitchell, Maria Purcell, John Slocum, Bill Taddeo and Dick Withington took samples every week and delivered them to the Save The River office. The Thousand Islands Land Trust provided staff support for sampling at Potter’s Beach. Each week, samples were held at T.I. Reality in Clayton before being taken to and analyzed by Converse Laboratories in Watertown, a state certified facility. Without the support of these volunteers and organizations, Save The River would not be able to conduct such an extensive water sampling program which has provided up-to-date water quality information to the river community since 1999.

Test results were compared to New York State Department of Health standards for beach swimming water quality. Water at swimming beaches is deemed unhealthy if there are 235 colony-forming units (CFU’s) or higher of E.coli bacteria per 100 milliliters of sample water. None of the samples taken this summer for the Beach Watch program exceeded this guideline.

Exposure to high levels of E.coli bacteria can cause serious health problems. The elderly and young children are especially susceptible. Symptoms of infection include: chills, fever, diarrhea and cramping.  To stay safe, be sure to never swallow swimming water and always wash hands after swimming and before eating.

Scientific studies have also indicated that the presence of Cladophora, a type of green algae that occurs naturally in the River and throughout the Great Lakes region, can harbor unsafe levels of bacteria.  Swimmers should always look for the presence of Cladophora algae before swimming at most locations on the River.

Click here to read the 2014 Beach Watch Fact sheet with sampling results. Be sure to check up on your favorite swimming spots once Beach Watch resumes next summer.  Results are always available at the Save The River office in Clayton, its website and the smart phone app SwimGuide.

To get involved with Beach Watch 2015, call Save The River at (315) 686-2010 or e-mail info@savetheriver.org.

Haas The Great Blue Heron Now Available

August 27th, 2014 | Posted by Lindsey

Save The River has published an illustrated children’s book, Haas The Great Blue Heron. It is the tale of a father heron anxiously awaiting the arrival of his chick. This beautifully illustrated book is a wonderful introduction to the Great Blue Heron and its habitat, the St. Lawrence River.

Save The River Volunteer Juliane Flora authored Haas for teachers and students participating in its In the Schools education program that teaches students in area schools about the River’s ecology and need for protection. Each year over 500 K-12 students receive classroom instruction and many of them also get hands-on experience with a field trip to the River.

Haas

Haas The Great Blue Heron is currently available at smile.amazon.com.

A limited number of quantities are also available at Save The River’s office. Proceeds from the sale of Haas will directly support Save The River’s In the Schools program.

Publication of Haas The Great Blue Heron was made possible by a grant from the Northern New York Community Foundation Youth Philanthropy Council.

For further information please contact Kate Breheny, Program Manager, at kate@savetheriver.org.

Save The River Reports on Week 8 of Beach Watch Program

August 27th, 2014 | Posted by Lindsey

Clayton, NY (August 25, 2014) - Save The River’s Beach Watch Program is in the process of monitoring popular summer swimming locations on the river from July 7th through August 25th .  Save The River reports that all beach water samples taken on August 25th passed and the beaches are safe for swimming.

For the 2014 sampling season, Save The River volunteers are collecting water quality samples at six swimming areas along the river: Wilson Beach in Cape Vincent, Potter’s Beach on Grindstone Island, Frink Dock in Clayton, Round Island in Clayton, Lake of the Isles on Wellesley Island, and Scenic View Park in Alexandria Bay. Save The River’s unique program provides a snapshot of water quality at popular swimming areas during the peak recreational swimming season. This is the last sampling date for this year.

As in previous years, Save The River is testing for E. coli in all of our swimming spots and will compare water quality results with state and federal regulations. The results will be made available to the public each week with a pass/ fail system that is available at the Save The River office, website, and by following Save The River on Facebook and Twitter. Results will also be posted on www.swimguide.org and in the TI Sun.

For more information please call the Save The River offices at (315)-686-2010. Additional information can also be found at www.savetheriver.org.

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Jack Butts, Sunnyside Island Voted to Save The River Board New Officers Elected

August 25th, 2014 | Posted by Lindsey

Butts J

Clayton, NY (August 25, 2014) – Save The River held its Annual Membership Meeting August 21. At that meeting John (Jack) H. Butts III became the newest addition to the Save The River Board of Directors.  Jack, President and CEO of Rosco Terminal Tackle, Rome, New York, comes from a long line of River Rats; he spent his early childhood on Butts Island near Ivy Lea where he learned his love for the River.  He now calls Sunnyside Island home, where he lives with his wife Rita.  Jack is active with various other organizations on both sides of the River.

Along with Jack, five current board members returned to the board of directors for another three-year term – Skip Behrhorst, Fred Morey, John Peach, Roger Peinkofer, and Liz Raisbeck.

Save The River also elected officers for the coming year. Bill Grater, Grater Architects and a long time Save The River Board member will continue as Board President. Jeff Garnsey, Classic Island Tours, was elected Vice President. Fred Morey is returning as Treasurer, Clif Schneider Secretary and Lauran Throop as Member-At-Large.

For a list of current Save The River Board member’s click here.

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Save The River Reports on Week 7 of Beach Watch Program

August 21st, 2014 | Posted by Lindsey

Clayton, NY (August 18, 2014) - Save The River’s Beach Watch Program is in the process of monitoring popular summer swimming locations on the River from July 7th through August 25th Save The River reports all samples passed in Week 7.

For the 2014 sampling season Save The River volunteers are collecting water quality samples at six swimming areas along the River: Wilson Beach in Cape Vincent, Potter’s Beach on Grindstone Island, Frink Dock in Clayton, Round Island in Clayton, Lake of the Isles on Wellesley Island, and Scenic View Park in Alexandria Bay. Save The River’s unique program provides a glimpse of the water quality at popular swimming areas during the peak recreational swimming season. Sampling dates for this year are July 7, July 14, July 21, July 28, August 4, August 11, August 18, and August 25.

As in previous years, Save The River will be testing for e. coli bacteria in all of our swimming locations and will compare water quality results with state and federal regulations. Save The River The results will be made available to the public each week with a pass/ fail system that is available at the Save the River offices, website and by following Save The River on Facebook and Twitter. Results will also be posted on www.swimguide.org and in the T.I. Sun.

For more information please contact the Save The River office at (315)-686-2010 or visit www.savetheriver.org.

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Save The River Honors Exceptional Volunteers

August 15th, 2014 | Posted by Lindsey

[Clayton, New York] The Save The River staff and board honored its cadre of over 500 volunteers on Thursday, August 7th at the annual Volunteer Appreciation Party held at the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority’s Rift Camp.

Volunteer of the year

This year Juliane Flora was honored as Volunteer of the Year.  This award is given each year to a volunteer who has consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty in their volunteer efforts.   Ms. Flora has been a devoted volunteer for over 20 years who most recently worked with Save The River to author and publish Haas, The Great Blue Heron, a children’s book for teachers and students participating in the Save The River In the Schools education program.

“Publishing a book was a new project for Save The River. At times it seemed the challenge would prove too much, but Juliane went way beyond just providing the story. She, like most of our volunteers, brought her dedication and talents to bear and inspired us all to see it through to the end. The result is magnificent, and a great addition to Save The River’s “storied” history,” stated Lee Willbanks executive director of Save The River.

Haas

Ms. Flora is credited with gifting her story to Save The River, where in turn proceeds from future sale of the book will directly support Save The River’s

ability to educate students about the need for River protection. Publication of the book was made possible by a grant from the Northern New York Community Foundation Youth Philanthropy Council.

Mr. Willbanks and Board President Bill Grader pointed out that volunteers who share their time and talents make it possible for the small staff of five to expand their capacity as a strong and effective voice for the protection and restoration of the River.

“The commitment of our volunteers is inspiring to the staff. It shows strong support in the community for the vital work of protecting the St. Lawrence River,” said Willbanks.

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