Save The River has been fighting to protect the vulnerable and fragile natural and human environment on the St. Lawrence River for its entire 37-year history. Recent efforts by the Seaway corporations to market the River as a highway for crude oil have caused us to increase our focus on the threat these cargoes pose to the River. What we have learned is alarming.
Although refined petroleum products are currently transported on the Great Lakes, crude oil is not. Two very different and very dangerous types of crude are poised to transit the St. Lawrence River. One, Bakken crude, is extremely volatile, even explosive as seen in numerous “bomb train” incidents in recent years. The other, tar sands oil, is heavy enough to sink in freshwater where, with current technology it is unrecoverable.
Shipping on the St. Lawrence River has long been an all-risk and no-reward proposition, and the shipment of crude oil will exponentially increase the risk to our environment, our economy and our communities. Having suffered a major oil spill on the St. Lawrence River, we know all too well the risks involved with even traditional cargoes. As pressure increases to bring these dangerous cargoes to the waters of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes, we must take steps to protect our River before it’s too late.
For these reasons, Save The River enthusiastically supports the Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate this week. If passed, it will ban the shipment of crude oil by vessel on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. The authors, Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow (MI) deserve to be commended. Their bill, in addition to banning the shipment of crude oil, requires a comprehensive, top-to-bottom review of hazardous pipelines in the region, compels an assessment of oil spill response and cleanup plans, and requires that ice cover be part of worst-case scenarios in response plans.
Once crude oil is in a ship’s hold headed for the St. Lawrence it will be too late. Now is the time to prevent the next catastrophic spill from happening. The best way to do that is to keep cargoes the Coast Guard admits it doesn’t know how to handle off the water entirely. The Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act should be supported by every member of New York’s Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River congressional delegation as a way to preserve and protect the St. Lawrence River now and for future generations.
Letter to the Editor by Lee Willbanks
Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper / Executive Director
Published by the Thousand Islands Sun on September 30th, 2015
The Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act, introduced last week by U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan, also calls for new research on oil spill response, such as how to respond to a spill during the winter when ice covers the lakes, and increases access to safety information about pipelines.
The pair said in statements that they were inspired by a large spill in the Kalamazoo River.
“One can only imagine what a disaster it would be for a similar oil spill to occur in the Great Lakes, the world’s largest system of fresh surface water,” Sen. Peters said in a statement.
The pair also noted discomfort among maritime officials about the effectiveness of oil spill cleanup methods, such as oil dispersants, in times of cold water.
Among those advocating for the measure were Save the River, Clayton, which dedicated its winter conference to the topic earlier this year.
“Shipping on the St. Lawrence River has long been an all-risk and no-reward proposition, and crude oil on ships would greatly increase that risk to our environment, our economy and our communities,” D. Lee Willbanks, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
Tom Flanagin, spokesman for Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said that the congresswoman was looking for ways to protect the lakes without limiting access to affordable energy, and that the proposal was under review by her staff and the Great Lakes Task Force.
Similarly, a spokesman for Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the senator’s office also is reviewing the measure. A spokesman for Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she is considering the proposal, and is committed to protecting area lakes and waterways.
Currently, no crude oil shipments are made by vessel on the Great Lakes, Save the River and lawmakers said. However, the possibility of Canadian companies shipping crude oil on the St. Lawrence Seaway was reviewed last year by the U.S. Department of State as a part of its examination of the Keystone XL pipeline project.
From the Watertown Daily Times. Published on Sunday, September 27th, 2015
For Robert W. Dick, captain of Moby Dick Charters in Henderson since 1987 and an angler since he was “old enough to hold a pole,” this year’s bass fishing season has been the worst he’s ever seen.
Smallmouth bass still can be found, and some of the bass have been bigger than usual, but Mr. Dick and other anglers on Lake Ontario said they have had to search much longer than in years past to pull in the coveted fish.
“Guys are spending lots and lots of money going place to place trying to find them, and not finding any results at all,” Mr. Dick said.
Charter captains on the St. Lawrence River also have found their catches lacking.
“Usually it’s an easy target — you get over them and you put them in the boat,” said Paul J. Corbett, a captain in Clayton. “This year it’s been a grind. If you can get a couple, you’ve had a good day.”
A combination of invasive species, predators and uneven water temperatures that lingered well into August might be part of the problem, according to state officials and anglers. However, they said, there is little in the way of direct links to the decreased count this bass season, which started June 20 and ends Nov. 30.
Data for the full season will be released in March.
“A lot of people are wondering what is causing it,” Mr. Dick said of the drop. “They don’t know.”
Fishing is big business in New York. Statewide, the most recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service census of sporting activity, in 2011, found that fishing-related expenditures totaled $2 billion that year, a part of $41.8 billion in angling expenditures nationwide.
And the north country is home to several large fishing tournaments that draw people from inside and outside of the region. The biggest of those: the Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite, held July 30 through Aug. 2 on the St. Lawrence River in Waddington.
At the beginning of this year, Bassmaster ranked the Thousand Islands region as the eighth-best in the United States in its top 100 lakes list.
But despite the high rating, variability has marked the species’ existence in the region.
Statistics from the state Department of Environmental Conservation show the numbers of smallmouth bass in the St. Lawrence River have ranged widely from the mid-1970s until now. The fish’s levels peaked in 1988, fell from 1996 to 2004, and generally rose after 2005, peaking in 2012.
“Every year you have to adjust,” said Myrle R. Bauer, a captain in Clayton for 24 years. “This year it’s a little harder.”
In the eastern basin of Lake Ontario, the DEC said, the 2014 smallmouth catch rate was at its worst since 2004. The department said cooler water temperatures, which can negatively affect fish distribution, might have played a role.
Observers said a large influx of round gobies, an invasive species that eats fish eggs, might be affecting the bass population. However, they note, the gobies are eaten by the bass, helping to increase the latter fish’s size.
The number of cormorants — ubiquitous waterfowl that prey on bass — also has created problems, though the birds’ impact has been lessened in recent years due to DEC egg addling and nest destruction, plus a switch by the birds to eating gobies, according to DEC officials.
Theodore R. “Rusty” Hinckley, a fourth-generation charter captain in Cape Vincent, said bass fishing has been touch-and-go through the years.
“We hope it cycles,” he said. “Everything comes back.”
Frank M. Flack, the DEC’s Region 6 fisheries manager, said anglers have complained about a drop in smallmouth bass and northern pike in the river, but he has heard fewer specific issues about Lake Ontario.
Though quantities have dropped, he said the fish that have been found are bigger than anticipated.
“What we have out there is a lot of bigger fish, but less of them,” Mr. Flack said.
One part-time captain in Henderson, James H. McGowan, said the bass have been getting bigger and bigger in the past few years.
“For trophy fishing, it was an outstanding year,” he said. “The bass, when they were found, they were huge.”
Regardless of water body, the shortage of bass has caused charter fishing captains to adjust expectations to keep customers.
Mr. Corbett said he at times has pushed customers to other targets.
“The goal is to get fish,” he said. “If it’s not bass, it’s pike. If it’s not pike, it’s perch.”
He said he was trying to focus on what he could control.
“We can’t control Mother Nature,” he said. “If the fish are there, we’ll make it work.”
Mr. Dick said he hasn’t seen any dip in his customers, because many who travel are flexible with what they catch. He said Henderson Harbor’s walleye and lake trout populations have been very good this season.
“They want to catch something, and they know the action is excellent,” he said.
Steven R. LaPan, who leads the DEC’s Great Lakes fisheries section in Cape Vincent, said that despite the reduced bass catch-load this season, patience is the key.
“Next year it could be completely different,” he said.
Mr. LaPan said the problem would become more pressing if the trend continues for three or four more years.
“Then we’re all concerned,” he said. “The stars would be aligning, and not in a good way.”
That patience could be tested, as concerns are rising among anglers that next summer might have a similar outcome as this year.
With the Farmers’ Almanac predicting bitterly cold temperatures for the eastern side of the Great Lakes for another winter, Patrick J. Clarke, a second-generation charter captain in Clayton, said “all of us guides are kind of cringing,” due to the effects of cooler waters on bass movements and feeding levels.
Though he and fellow charter operators have weathered poor bass hauls in summers past thanks to the quality of other fish, he said it eventually could have an impact on people considering where to travel.
“That person — that first-timer who doesn’t do as well as they thought — they may not come back,” Mr. Clarke said.
Another authoritative voice for Plan 2014 speaks out.
In a commentary in the Cornwall, Ontario Standard Freeholder, Daniel Macfarlane states, “The current method of regulation [of water levels on the St. Lawrence River] is an anachronism.” “[I]t is up to the Canadian and American governments to decide what to do. They must adopt [Plan 2014]“.
Of course, Save The River agrees. Our thousands of members, followers and supporters agree. The municipalities that depend on a healthy St. Lawrence River agree. Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and more than 40 other conservation and environmental groups agree. Newspaper editorial boards across New York State and Ontario agree. More that twenty thousand New Yorkers who live elsewhere, but visit, fish, boat, and enjoy the River and understand the environmental harm being done by the current plan agree. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik agrees.
Only the Seaway corporations, who see the River as “Highway H2O” and property owners who built ignoring the realities of nature and environment are opposed. “But”, as Macfarlane writes, “they can’t be allowed to stand in the way of a new method of regulation.”
Macfarlane continues, “Plan 2014 . . . would allow for greater spring and fall fluctuations of up to 20 centimetres [less than 8"] while continuing to moderate high and low levels.”
And concludes, “Though we can’t restore this ecosystem to some perfect past ‘natural’ state, there should be more emphasis on adapting human activities to the needs of water bodies, rather than the other way around.”
Daniel Macfarlane is an assistant professor of freshwater policy in environmental and sustainability studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., and author of “Navigating a River: Canada, the U.S., and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway.”
As SepticSmart week ends we want to thank everyone over the years who has participated in Save The River’s Kingfisher Water Quality Program. Reducing untreated waste flow to the River or any waterbody, is a year-round endeavor, and the Kingfisher water quality program was responsible for significant reduction in the amount of wastewater entering the St. Lawrence River from hundreds of homes and cottages in the Thousand Islands.
We are pleased to announce this week’s photo contest winners. We had many photos submitted to us by people practicing catch & release fishing and hope that this continues throughout the season.
First Place Winner: Matt V.
Second Place Winner: Eric J.
Third Place Winner: Jeff L.
Thank you to everyone who submitted photos this week. This contest is open to everyone practicing catch and release fishing and you are welcome to submit as many photos as you would like.
Photos can be submitted directly to Save The River’s Catch and Release Program Facebook page or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By submitting photos you consent to their use by Save The River.
[Clayton, New York] Monday, September 21st, Save The River and SLELO-Prism hosted Bruce Lauber and Nancy Connelly of Cornell University’s Human Dimensions Research Unit. Mr. Lauber and Ms. Connelly presented the results of recent research on communication and outreach practices about aquatic invasive species.
Topics covered included what anglers, boaters, and bait dealers think and do about invasive species, the effectiveness of various outreach messages and methods. The capacity for additional outreach was also shared. A round table discussion followed on how to use the research results to increase behavior to prevent the spread of invasive species resulting from outreach efforts.
Attending were representatives of Save The River, SLELO- Prism, New York State Department of Conservation, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Fort Drum Division of Natural Resources and Thousand Islands Land Trust.
“We are pleased to host this event because invasive species are the scourge of our River and of waterways throughout New York State. Any effort we can make to improve education and to prevent the transport of these environmentally and economically harmful organisms is important,” stated Lee Willbanks, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Save The River Executive Director.
Kate Breheny, Save The River’s Program Manager said, “These topics go hand and hand with the work we do though our Riverkeeper Volunteer Monitoring Program and trainings. This year we trained over 250 volunteers and will to continue to grow the topics covered and increase our work with invasive species recognition and reporting.”
SLELO-Prism is the St. Lawrence-Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, a collaborative effort between a large and diverse group of partners, including Save The River, throughout the region to protect the natural and cultural of integrity of aqutic and terrestrial areas of from invasive species.
For more information on aquatic invasive species and what you can do to prevent the spread of them visit www.savetheriver.org or contact Kate Breheny at 315-686-2010.
Emily Sheridan, NYSDEC, Rebecca Martin, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Megan Pistolese, SLELO-Prism, Robin Tubolino, Thousand Islands Land Trust, Nancy Connelly, Cornell University, Bruce Lauber, Cornell University, Kate Breheny, Save The River
Published in the Thousand Islands Sun on September 23, 2015.
Save The River Applauds Federal Legislation that would Ban Crude Oil Shipments on the Great Lakes, Assess Pipeline Risks and Improve Spill Response Plans
WASHINGTON, DC – Save The River is applauding the Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act which would ban the shipping of crude oil by vessel on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow (MI) introduced the legislation today which in addition to banning crude oil in vessels, requires a comprehensive, top-to-bottom review of hazardous pipelines in the region. This legislation would also compel an assessment of oil spill response and cleanup plans, require ice cover be part of worst-case scenarios in response plans and increase public information about pipelines for local communities.
“We have suffered a major oil spill on the St. Lawrence River, and our communities will never forget”, said Lee Willbanks, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and executive director of Save The River. “As pressures increase to bring crude oil cargoes to the waters of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes, we will vigorously support this legislation and we encourage our representatives to do so as well. Shipping on the St. Lawrence River has long been an all-risk and no-reward proposition, and crude oil on ships would greatly increase that risk to our environment, our economy and our communities.”
Save The River has been fighting to protect the vulnerable and fragile natural and human environment on the St. Lawrence River for its entire 37 year history, with a recent focus on the threat of new crude oil cargoes on the River. Last winter Save The River’s annual environmental conference featured an extensive examination of crude oil shipments, and possible impacts to the River. Earlier this month, Save The River brought these very concerns before a committee of the Jefferson County Legislature for consideration.
Currently, Willbanks is in Washington D.C. for meetings with Representative Stefanik and other members of the New York congressional delegation. While there he will urge support for the Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act, along with other River protection issues such as Plan 2014.
The Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act will protect the Great Lakes from oil spills by:
· Banning the shipment of crude oil on tanker vessels and barges on the Great Lakes. Earlier this month, the State of Michigan and Enbridge reached an agreement not to transport heavy crude oil under the current configurations of Line 5. As we rapidly explore alternatives to Line 5, and as energy transportation increases in the U.S., this bill makes clear that shipping crude oil on the Great Lakes is an unacceptable transportation option. There is currently no crude oil transported by vessel on the Great Lakes, and this bill keeps it that way.
· Mandating federal studies on pipeline risks in the Great Lakes, including alternatives to Line 5. The bill mandates analysis by the Department of Transportation and the National Academies on the risks associated with pipelines that run through the Great Lakes and other waterways in the region. The studies must deliver a report to Congress with safety recommendations related to reducing spill risks, including an assessment of alternatives to Line 5 and a comprehensive map of pipelines crossing waterways in the Great Lakes basin.
· Improving oil spill response plans. The legislation requires the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies to independently assess the current status of oil spill response and cleanup activities and techniques. It would also amend current law to require response plans that address icy conditions, when waters affected by a spill are covered in whole or in part by ice. During the past two winters, maximum ice coverage in the Great Lakes has been well above normal levels. The Coast Guard has stated it does not have the technology or capacity for worst-case discharge cleanup under solid ice, and that its response activities are not adequate in ice-choked waters.
· Increasing public information and transparency about pipeline risks. Corporate information on pipeline operating standards, inspection reports and other information related to safety is often kept secret, or difficult to access and understand. The bill ensures residents are notified about pipelines near their property and compels operators to maintain publicly available information.