To Save The River Supporters and our North Country Neighbors -
Over the past few weeks, you may have seen a flurry of media coverage surrounding a visit to the North Country by the St. Lawrence Seaway’s Administrator Collister ‘Terry’ Johnson (see below for a sampling of coverage).
Save The River staff and several members of our Board of Directors met with Mr. Johnson and his staff at our offices in Clayton for nearly two hours in late November. The meeting was frank and productive.
However, in the media surrounding the meeting, Mr. Johnson accused Save The River of ‘manufacturing issues’ – referring to Seaway expansion and winter navigation. We strongly disagree with this characterization, and felt it was necessary to respond with the letter copied below or download a ‘PDF’ of the letter here.
As always, thank you for your interest in River issues, and for your support of Save The River.
Jennifer J. Caddick
Save The River Executive Director & Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper
Media Coverage of Seaway Administrator’s North Country Visit
Seaway official dispels ‘myths’, Watertown Daily Times, 11/14/09
River advocates stay vigilant against Seaway expansion, North Country Public Radio, 11/18/09
Seaway Chief: No expansion, no winter navigation, North Country Public Radio 11/17/09
Seaway, river group agree to disagree, Watertown Daily Times, 11/17/09
Seaway chief hopes for traffic turnaround, North Country Public Radio, 11/19/09
Letter from Save The River to Seaway Administrator Johnson
December 17, 2009
Mr. Collister Johnson, Administrator
St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Suite W32-300
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Mr. Johnson,
Thank you for taking the time to meet with Save The River in Clayton last month to discuss matters related to the St. Lawrence Seaway. We appreciated the frank and open discussion. While we felt that our discussion was a productive one, some of the related media surrounding your visit did not reflect the dialogue that took place during our meeting and did not accurately reflect Save The River’s position on key River issues. As a result, we felt that it would be helpful to record our views of the conversation and identify areas of potential cooperation in the future.
A key point of discussion at the meeting and in related media coverage was your objection to Save The River’s advocacy campaign to fight an amendment (the much discussed Kaptur Amendment) on the climate change bill that could provide funding for physical expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Two key statements stand out. First, you have said publicly that expansion is ‘never going to happen’. We heartily applaud this statement and we relayed that sentiment to you and your staff during our meeting. We appreciate your honest and frank approach to the issue and the acknowledgement that the economic and environmental barriers are too great for this ill-advised project to move forward.
However, as we made very clear in our meeting, despite your statement, Save The River is not going to stop advocacy on this issue because, frankly, the final decision on Seaway expansion is not up to you. As we have seen time and again, Congress wields a tremendous amount of power and can continue to pursue this project by appropriating annual funding or creating funding sources for the project. Additionally, Seaway administrators have finite terms, and the next administrator may or may not share your same views on this issue.
Second, in news coverage in the Watertown Daily Times, you stated that Save The River was ‘manufacturing issues’ and that the Kaptur Amendment had ‘nothing whatsoever to do with seaway expansion’. We strongly disagree and during our meeting showed you the paper trail that clearly shows that Congresswoman Kaptur’s amendment was a vehicle for funding Seaway expansion. We reviewed the contents of an editorial that ran in Ms. Kaptur’s home paper last summer – aptly named “Expand the Seaway” (see enclosed copy). It heartily praises the Congresswoman for proposing the amendment and “backing an idea that is essential for our nation’s economic future: Spend what it takes to modernize the Seaway, including widening and deepening its locks not just for today’s vessels but with an eye to whatever future transportation needs may come.”
These words clearly indicate that Congresswoman Kaptur was, as of last July, actively pursuing Seaway expansion, and that this is in no way a ‘manufactured’ issue. During our meeting, you responded that you and your staff have a close relationship with Congresswoman Kaptur’s staff and that you would go back to her to get some answers about any connection between her amendment and efforts to expand the Seaway. We look forward to hearing the results of this exchange, but until then, Save The River will continue to pursue the issue and oppose this amendment.
So on the issue of Seaway expansion – we appreciate your stated opinion that it should never happen, yet emphasize that it is by no means entirely a matter for you to decide. We are not convinced that the Kaptur amendment has nothing to do with expansion, and we look forward to hearing the results of your discussions with Congresswoman Kaptur on this subject.
The other key focus of our meeting and related media coverage was the issue of winter navigation. During the meeting and in the media, you made the assertion that “winter navigation is never going to happen”. During our conversation, we clarified that the statement seemed to be interchangeable with the statement that “year-round navigation is never going to happen”. To continue discussion on this issue, we must be very clear how Save The River and the Seaway are using the term ‘winter navigation’.
Back in the late 1970’s, when winter navigation was proposed and debated by the region’s policy makers, the definition of winter navigation was a 12-month season on the Upper Great Lakes, but only a ten-month season on the St. Lawrence River. Year-round navigation was never considered an option here on the River, even by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because of this, we agree with your assertion that year-round navigation is never going to happen, but unfortunately cannot say the same about winter shipping.
When Save The River communicates on this issue, we always refer to it not as winter navigation, but as winter shipping, because our concerns are not only focused on a longer shipping season, but on any shipping in winter conditions (i.e., ice). Regardless of whether or not year round navigation is ever going to happen, Save The River has significant concerns about the impacts of the nine and a half month season that the Seaway has implemented over the last thirty years, and the attendant impacts of that activity on the St. Lawrence River. These concerns have been repeatedly and thoroughly expressed by Save The River and residents of the North Country, and need not be repeated here in detail, but center around impacts to near shore areas, habitat and spawning areas, and the inability to respond to shipping accidents and spills in ice conditions.
During our meeting, you were dismissive of Save The River’s concerns about shipping in winter conditions yet could not provide data or information to clearly rebut our concerns about the damages that winter shipping can cause. We pointed out that the Seaway has never conducted adequate environmental studies to determine whether shipping in ice conditions is safe for the environment of the St. Lawrence River, and that even the studies currently being conducted with the Mohawks of Akwesasne only look at the impacts of icebreaking on physical components of the shoreline, and do nothing to address biological implications. Additionally, you provided no information or evidence of the Seaway’s capacity to clean up spills in ice conditions or respond to shipping accidents in ice conditions.
We were informed at the meeting that the Seaway is in a position to receive funding to conduct or fund environmental research, and we requested that some of those funds be directed to study early shipping impacts on the St. Lawrence River. We look forward to hearing back about this possibility.
However, until adequate environmental studies are conducted and the tools exist to clean up spills or respond to accidents in ice conditions, we will continue to find avenues to oppose winter shipping.
Finally, there emerged in our discussions an important distinction about the roles of our organizations. During the meeting, you generously stated that much of the recent progress toward environmental goals should be attributed to the vigorous and persistent efforts of groups like Save The River, who have fought for the protection of the resource. You also acknowledged that the Seaway’s role is to represent the views and interests of the shipping industry, and only supply environmental benefits and protections where they are ‘practical’ or ‘reasonable.’ With such different missions, it is no surprise that there will be differences and disagreements between Save The River and the Seaway, but we must operate from a place of mutual respect for these missions, and therefore cannot agree with your characterization of the issues above as ‘manufactured’. Save The River’s job is to push for practices that are as protective as possible for the St. Lawrence River, and we look forward to open and productive dialogues going forward that will serve this goal.
Jennifer J. Caddick
Save The River Executive Director and Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper
cc: Save The River Members
John Johnson, Editor, Watertown Daily Times
encl: Expand the Seaway, Toledo Blade Editorial, published 7/9/09