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Closing seaway to ocean ships provocative, unneeded

Recently an editorial in a leading Midwest newspaper advocated closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway to ocean-going ships as the "only option" for protecting the Great Lakes against further introduction of ship-vectored aquatic invasive species.

This proposed course of action is stunningly oblivious to real world implications.

The Great Lakes Seaway System stretches more than 2,300 miles from Duluth, Minn., to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, making it the world's longest commercially navigable inland waterway system.

More than 40 major ports, located both in Canada and the United States, service maritime commerce in the region. A ship transiting the seaway section alone crosses the international border 27 times. In order to traverse the seaway, ships must pass through a series of 15 locks. Thirteen of these locks are owned by the government of Canada. Two are owned by the government of the United States.

If the United States were to use its two locks as instruments to prevent ocean ships from transiting the seaway, it would be blocking Canadian and foreign vessels from accessing Canadian ports and transiting Canadian waters.

Think about the implications. The United States would be forcibly depriving a sovereign nation of access to its vital transportation assets and, in the process, destroying the value of billions of dollars of Canadian infrastructure investment.

This would amount to more than just an economic blockade. It would be nothing less than an act of aggression against Canada, our neighbor, ally and largest trading partner.

This is not going to happen. To suggest otherwise is frivolous, absurd and unhinged from reality.

The U.S. and Canadian seaway corporations, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, are taking active measures to protect the Great Lakes against these invasive species.

All ballast tanks on ocean-going ships entering the seaway must be flushed with saltwater, a procedure that has proven highly effective in killing freshwater organisms that could colonize in the Great Lakes.

All ballast tanks are inspected by seaway and Coast Guard personnel in Montreal, before they enter the Great Lakes. The days of easy introduction of invasive species through ballast tanks and ballast water into the Great Lakes are over.

The environmental community deserves a great deal of credit for pushing the maritime industry to find solutions and procedures for protecting the Great Lakes against ship-vectored invasive species. But suggesting a seaway ban on "salties" is an unhelpful distraction.

It is time for the conversation to move on to real solutions for protecting the Great Lakes.

Collister "Terry" Johnson Jr. is the administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., a wholly owned, government corporation within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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