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26th annual Save the River winter conference boasts eclectic topics, speakers

February 2nd, 2015 | Posted by admin
Published: Monday, February 2, 2015  by the Watertown Daily Times

CLAYTON — The shipping of oil on the St. Lawrence River will be the main focus at the 26th annual Save the River winter conference Saturday [note: this is corrected from the article, which incorrectly states the Conference is Friday] at the Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel.

“The theme sort of chose itself this year,” said D. Lee Willbanks, Save the River executive director. “Across the Great Lakes region there has been a lot of attention to how much oil is produced in Alberta and North Dakota and how suppliers are having a hard time transporting it.”

At the conference, residents and public officials will have an opportunity to hear from scientists, experts, activists and educators about issues of importance to the health of the St. Lawrence River. Conference topics will include “To Ship or Not”: with the pace of oil extraction from the U.S. Midwest and Alberta tar sands picking up and increasing the pressure for ways to ship it to overseas markets, the waters and watershed of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are being considered as potential routes to the sea.

Mr. Willbanks said the oil shipments on the St. Lawrence River are already an unpleasant reality. He said the heavy oil and bitumen from the Alberta tar sands pose new threats to the river because of their chemical characteristics that make them difficult to handle and recover if spilled.

“Even shippers should be concerned,” Mr. Willbanks said. “If there is a spill, it could be a very long process to clean up.”

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”; Anthony Mangoni, district response advisory team supervisor, Ninth Coast Guard District; Gary McCullough of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Emma Lui from the Council of Canadians. There also will be a visual presentation about the source of this potential new cargo by Alex MacLean.

Mr. Willbanks said the discussions won’t be exclusively about oil. Additional speakers will provide updates on issues directly affecting the health of the St. Lawrence River and in which the river community has taken an active role. Dereth Glance, commissioner to the U.S. section of the International Joint Commission, will speak about the status of Plan 2014 and other water quality initiatives being undertaken by the commission. Jennifer Nalbone, of the state attorney general’s office, will provide an update on microbeads, the tiny plastic particles contained in personal care products, that have been found in alarming concentrations in the river, and the effort to ban them in New York. Matt Windle, research scientist at the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences, will speak about his research on the American eel, a once-thriving and still iconic and culturally significant but threatened St. Lawrence River inhabitant.

“There are a going to be a lot of rigorous discussions going,” Mr. Willbanks said. “I think this is going to be one of our best-attended events.”

The conference is open to the public and anyone interested in the future of the river is encouraged to attend. Registration begins at 10 a.m.

The registration fee is $45 and includes coffee, lunch and a cocktail reception with light hors d’oeuvres.

To make a reservation, call 686-2010.

26th Annual Winter Environmental Conference

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