Ottawa, ON — Marine shipping executives are calling on government officials to protect the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway trade corridor by working with stakeholders to develop solutions that do not rely on one ineffective dam to solve high water levels across the Great Lakes. The issue, which has already cost the economy millions of dollars, will be a top priority as representatives across Canada’s business sectors meet with federal government officials during Marine Day on the Hill, organized by the Chamber of Marine Commerce.
This year’s Marine Day on the Hill will emphasize the challenges that Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping faces from high waters and a lack of icebreaking resources. The day of meetings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa will culminate with a reception for stakeholders, MPs and Senators. Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Minister Bernadette Jordan is scheduled to provide remarks.
High Water Levels
High water levels have been negatively impacting shoreline residents and businesses, including those that depend on Seaway shipping.
“Going forward, we need to get together to develop a much broader, holistic resiliency plan that can address stakeholder needs and deliver actual, real results. It’s time for politicians to start working with all the affected residents, businesses and shipping stakeholders on smart, effective solutions for high water levels,” said Bruce Burrows, President and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce.
The CMC understands the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River board (ILORB) is currently considering raising outflows at the Moses-Saunders dam to a level that would lead to delaying the opening of navigation through the Montreal-Lake Ontario section of the St. Lawrence Seaway – an unprecedented move. With little ice coverage being experienced this year, typically the shipping season would open around March 20.
“Shutting down or interrupting Canadian, American and international trade on the St. Lawrence Seaway and further damaging the economy and our nation’s global trading reputation should never be an option,” said Burrows. “Given the current disruption impacting Canada’s national railways, we certainly do not need any delays of transportation of critical supplies and products along this important trade corridor.”
In 2019, marine shipping worked diligently with stakeholders to ensure safe navigation at record outflow levels from Moses-Saunders dam on the St. Lawrence Seaway for five months to help lower Lake Ontario, taking on 26 mitigation measures that caused shipping delays, lost cargo business and millions of dollars of extra operating costs. The marine shipping industry is working with officials across both sides of the border, as well as scientific experts here in Canada to study what improvements can be made that could lead to navigation during increased outflow periods if water causes flooding on Lake Ontario in 2020.
But, the rising water levels have continuously led to calls by shoreline residents to “open the floodgates” at the dam. This move would create fast-moving, unsafe currents that would stop marine shipping and cost the Canadian and American economies up to $250 million in lost business revenues a week – impacting farmers, steel and manufacturing employees, miners and construction workers and the myriad of others whose livelihoods depend on the cargo carried on the waterway.
Evidence from the ILORB demonstrates that outflow levels at Moses-Saunders dam has little impact on the problem, lowering the Lake by centimeters only to have more water come flooding in from precipitation or Lake Erie and the other overflowing Great Lakes — all at record levels. With every outflow decision, the ILORB has to consider downstream flooding in Montreal, upstream municipal water intakes, power generation, shoreline damage and navigation safety for both commercial and recreational interests.
“The dam is a very limited tool that does not solve this problem. And yet, the Seaway has been at risk of shut down for months and months. This cloud of uncertainty damages Canada’s reputation as a global trade partner and drives business away — ultimately impacting economic growth and job creation in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region,” says Allister Paterson, Chair of the Chamber of Marine Commerce and Chief Commercial Officer of ship operator CSL Group. “we need to work together to develop a much broader, holistic resiliency plan that looks at every avenue including flood zoning, shoreline resiliency and infrastructure investments for residents and business owners.”
Stakeholders on the consequences of interrupting St. Lawrence Seaway commercial navigation
“It disrupts our ability to supply our international customers. Vessel demurrage charges, contract extension penalties and contract defaults are real consequences, as is harm to Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier of grains, oilseeds and pulse crops throughout the world. We are extremely sensitive to these extra costs, not only for our members but for grain producers and customers. A disruption to the grain supply chain of any length of time means lost shipping opportunities that will never be recovered.”
Wade Sobkowich, Executive Director of the Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA), representing major grain businesses handling in excess of 95% of western Canada’s bulk grain exports.
“Throughout the system, we are all feeling the effects and bearing the cost. HOPA Ports is currently in the midst of a $35 million infrastructure upgrade program, and 2019’s high water levels have added more than $1 million in additional cost and delay to this necessary work. We understand that as waters rise, so does pressure to adopt emergency or knee jerk measures, like ad-hoc halts to the Seaway shipping season. But the result of such action would be transportation chaos with negligible benefits. A mid-season shutdown would send manufacturers and farmers scrambling to find alternative transportation for as much as a million tonnes of cargo. If port users could even find alternative transportation at short notice, it would likely be a truck, resulting in more than 40,000 new truck trips between the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area and Montreal at a 500% increase in carbon emissions.”
Ian Hamilton, President and CEO of HOPA Ports (Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority)