Thursday, January 29, 2009

U.S. and New York Claim Damages to Buffalo River

The federal government and New York State have notified some of the nation's largest companies that they indend to pursue a claim for natural resource damages caused by a history of contamination of the Buffalo River.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, together as trustees of the natural resources of the Buffalo River, say they have studied the river's resources, concluded that "significant harm has occurred" and determined that further assessment is needed to decide what restoration is necessary.

The notice was issued to ExxonMobil Corporation, Honeywell Corporation, and PVS Chemicals, companies that owned and operated industrial facilities along the Buffalo River.

The companies are alleged to have each discharged toxic chemicals or oil into the waterway, harming fish, wildlife, biota, water quality, sediments and cultural resources.

The Buffalo River empties into the eastern end of Lake Erie, by the city of Buffalo, New York. The river is listed as a Great Lakes Areas of Concern in The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada.

"Today's action is an important step in holding polluters accountable for the damage to the Buffalo River's ecosystem," said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. "With this action, we are serving notice that the public is due compensation for the losses resulting from the historical contamination of this river."

"Too often in the past, urban waterways were used for the dumping of toxic chemicals. It is now time to reclaim these natural resources so they can serve the interests of their surrounding communities," Grannis said.

"Common terns, belted kingfishers, shorebirds, herons, rails and other marsh birds living along the river in wetlands and mudflats will benefit from restoration of the Buffalo River," said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Regional Director Marvin Moriarty. "We want to work cooperatively to develop a restoration plan and to put that plan into action."


Manitowoc County shipwreck listed in National Register of Historic Places

The Wisconsin Historical Society has announced the listing of two Lake Michigan shipwrecks, the Lumberman (Milwaukee County) and the Continental (Manitowoc County) in the National Register of Historic Places.

The remains of the schooner Lumberman lie in 55 feet of water four miles east of Oak Creek. Built in 1862 in the remote, frontier shipyard of Allyne Litchfield in Blendon’s Landing, Mich., the Lumberman was built specifically for transportation of lumber products. The three-masted, double centerboard schooner sank in a fast-moving storm on April 6, 1893.

The Lumberman is remarkably intact and provides the opportunity to study construction techniques on this unique vessel type. Little documentation exists in the historic record regarding double centerboard schooners, and the Lumberman is one of only four examples known to exist in Wisconsin waters, making it an important archaeological resource, according to a press release from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The remains of the bulk carrier Continental, located 1.5 miles north of Rawley Point Light in Point Beach State Forest near Two Rivers, rest broken in 15 feet of water. Built in 1882 by well-known shipwright George Presley in Cleveland, Ohio, the Continental was one of a transitional class of Great Lakes bulk carriers that began to employ innovative hull-strengthening technologies to accommodate greater gross tonnage and longer hulls.

The Continental was lost in a blinding snowstorm in December 1904 while running empty, bound for Manitowoc for winter service and repairs. Bulk carriers like the Continental are an important and enduring part of the Great Lakes economy and history, having played a substantial role in the industrialization of America, according to the press release.


New DEQ building in Bay City will be most energy-efficient building in Michigan

Michigan's most energy-efficient building will open soon in Bay City.

The 25,000-square-foot office, 401 Ketchum St., will house the state Department of Environmental Quality's Saginaw Bay District headquarters along with Michigan Rehabilitation Services, an arm of the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

And while the office is decorated in shades of blue, it boasts green features from top to bottom: Fluorescent lights that adjust their intensity based on the sunshine from 28 skylights, walls insulated with recycled blue jeans, refurbished office furniture and window sills made from reclaimed marble from a state office building in Lansing.

The two state agencies are now housed in a 17,000-square-foot strip mall on Euclid Avenue. The new offices are due to open for business on Feb. 2.

A public open house is planned for sometime around Earth Day in April, said Tim Diebolt, chief of the DEQ's Office of Business Services in Lansing.

"It's the greenest building in the state right now," said Diebolt, who was in town on Tuesday.

The brick structure will house about 80 DEQ employees and another 20 from MRS.

On Tuesday, a radio was blaring country music in a sea of cubicles as workers put the finishing touches on phones and other systems in the building.

But with sound-absorbing ceiling tiles made from wheat, you could barely hear the noise standing about 100 feet away.

The new building also has five conference rooms, with video capabilities and smart sensors that adjust the temperature only if people are present.


IDEM to discuss enforcement changes with EPA

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management will meet soon with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to discuss recent changes in enforcement at IDEM.

EPA requested the meeting in a Jan. 20 letter. Acting Regional EPA Administrator Bharat Mathur stated he wants to talk about IDEM's elimination of the Office of Enforcement, its proposed new compliance and enforcement policy, and its elimination of city contracts to monitor air permit compliance on IDEM's behalf. City inspectors police everything from power plants to neighborhood dry cleaners.

IDEM spokesman Rob Elstro told the Post-Tribune IDEM received EPA's letter Monday.

"Acting Regional Administrator Mathur has graciously offered to come down to Indianapolis to talk to us, so we will set up a convenient time in the near future. The letter outlined many topics that (Mathur) wants to cover, so we are currently preparing to discuss them at the meeting," Elstro said.

City officials said EPA's letter is a sign IDEM failed to communicate with EPA about the changes beforehand.

Elstro said IDEM and EPA "communicate continuously about a wide range of regulatory topics" and that the meeting "is a normal part of the open communication that IDEM has with U.S. EPA."

EPA plans to question IDEM about its proposed enforcement policy. The proposal would make IDEM less likely to enforce against a facility for permit violations -- unless the violation causes actual harm to the environment or public health.


Make Cootes national park, group urges

The idea of a Cootes Paradise National Park is being revived by local conservationists.

But they say it is jeopardized by plans for a self-storage warehouse beside the Desjardins Canal at the east entrance to Dundas.

Eco Park Vision Document

They point to a new vision of an urban eco-park -- maybe a national park -- incorporating the Cootes marsh, drafted by Urban Strategies Inc., the firm responsible for McMaster University's campus master plan among other Hamilton projects.

Joe Berridge, a partner who has helped reshape waterfronts in Toronto, New York and London, produced the concept document at the invitation of Ben Vanderbrug, retired general manager of the Hamilton Conservation Authority; McMaster University professor Brian Baetz; and Dundas environmentalist Joanna Chapman.

It points to the large amount of public open space stretching from the Desjardins Canal and Cootes to the Niagara Escarpment above Dundas, saying there is an opportunity to "physically span and connect these remarkable environmental and ecological assets into an eco-park in the centre of a highly urbanized area."

It goes on to say: "What is needed for this entire area is a broader vision that can direct urban growth and development in ways that enhance its unique natural setting.

"Creation of the urban eco-park and establishing a clear future for the lands between Cootes Paradise and the escarpment are decisions commensurate with the significance of the creation of the Niagara Escarpment Commission or Rouge Park (connecting the Oak Ridges Moraine north of Toronto to Lake Ontario)."

It says the corridor along the old canal -- including the potential warehouse site -- is crucial to forming a gateway to the park.

"The commercial use proposed, a significant departure from the existing parkland designation, has no connection to recreation or natural systems and is therefore inappropriate."


Chicago-area wetland mitigation banks are bogged down

John Ryan is a banker hoping for some help from the federal government, which is not surprising in the current financial crisis, except that he doesn't make loans.

He makes wetlands.

Ryan, 52, is a wetland banker, a pioneer in an obscure industry of entrepreneurs who create or restore wetlands, then sell "credits" to agencies and developers that are required to offset what they destroy.

Wetland banking, which got its start locally in St. Charles, was thriving amid an explosion of suburban growth over the last two decades. But as the economy, particularly the housing market, has collapsed, wetland banking has largely dried up.

While the lull has concerned wetland bankers, some environmentalists say the slowdown has bought them time to protect remaining wetlands and push for changes to wetland banking, which they say is not achieving its purpose of replacing what is lost.

Wetlands serve several ecological functions. In addition to serving as a habitat for dozens of different species of plants and birds, they help control flooding, filter pollution and replenish the water supply.

Yet their importance was largely ignored until 1989, when President George H.W. Bush ordered that agencies and developers replace wetlands they damage so there is "no net loss."

To meet this directive, many developers simply tried to build new wetlands on site, which often failed to create an attractive wildlife habitat.

"Developers don't know how to build wetlands," said Jeff Mengler, a wetland ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "They put them out back of local shopping centers or whatever, and that's not really the best place for them."

Wetland bankers say they not only make life easier for developers, but they also perform an environmental service by replacing low-quality wetlands with high-quality wetlands strategically located to benefit watersheds.

Typically, bankers excavate land and remove drain tiles from farmlands that historically were wetlands. Then, when the ground becomes soggy, they install native plants such as sedges and rushes, remove invasive species and seek approval from federal agencies to sell more credits.


Federal representatives eye Port of Oswego Authority Andrew Henderson 01-28-2009

Two federal officials are working to help the Port of Oswego Authority expand into a container feeder port.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman John McHugh said they are both working on separate items that will benefit the local port, which is the first U.S. port and first deep-water port on the Great Lakes coming from the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Sen. Schumer told reporters last week that funding for the port project could be included of a transportation-funding bill planned for later this year. He also noted that legislation is needed to delineate which Great Lakes ports will receive container ships.

Congressman McHugh introduced legislation that would provide the tax incentives necessary to increase coastal and inland freight transportation, including through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Port of Oswego.

The Short Sea Shipping Act of 2009 (H.R. 528) would exempt specific non-bulk commercial cargo from the Harbor Maintenance Tax.

“For too long, the Harbor Maintenance Tax has served as a barrier to the development of a robust and vital short sea shipping industry in the United States, which would have significant economic and environmental benefits,” said Rep. McHugh. “Providing this exemption to the HMT would give cargo shippers an incentive to move cargo via water rather than by trucks, combating high congestion, improving the flow of commerce, and reducing air pollution generated by ground transportation

“Across the country, enacting this legislation would spur significant activity in the shipbuilding industry, creating many employment opportunities,” he added. “An example in the 23rd Congressional District would be the potential for significant expansion at the Port of Oswego, which could result in millions of dollars in economic impact and the creation of dozens of jobs.”

Port Director Jonathan Daniels said the barrier must be removed if the port is to fulfill its potential as a container feeder port. The port is planning a $3 million project in preparation for potential cargo-containers from the motor-vessel Emma Maersk, the largest container vessel in the world.


Imprisoned in the ice, passengers opt to party

Some sang and danced all night, others learned about ocean depths and Mount Everest's heights after watching the sun set on the pack ice imprisoning them.

A cruise ship stuck for 30 hours in the ice of the St. Lawrence River was more Love Boat than Titanic this week as travellers took advantage of their isolation to party and learn.

The 300 people on board CTMA Vacancier were on an annual ski tour of ports of call from Montreal to Gaspé, with most stops in Quebec's isolated Gaspé Peninsula.

Participants pay $1,600 for the privilege of skiing an average of 45 kilometres a day and eating and sleeping on the luxury liner. Volunteer experts drop in to put on some 50 presentations on subjects ranging from Antarctic exploration to studies of the human mind.

A scheduled stop in Matane, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River about 400 kilometres downstream from Quebec City, turned into a party on ice after wind-driven slabs packed the town's harbour, stranding the ship offshore late Sunday night.

Luckily, the Vacancier had many days worth of provisions on board, including gourmet food, beer and wine, and enlightened company.

"I can't get over it. The spectacle we've seen here has been extraordinary," said Patricia Tulasne, a Quebec actress who helped organize an impromptu concert among the 30 musicians and singers on board. The show was dubbed Ice Académie after the popular television program Star Académie.

Documentary maker Pierre Migneault gave a presentation on film, while Serge Dessureault regaled travellers with an account of his recent ascent of Mount Everest.


We're all linked by wetlands

One of the most fascinating ecosystems I can think of is a wetland. You would be hard-pressed to find so many species of wildlife so tightly linked together by one main component -water.

I admit that late January may seem like an odd time to be writing about the topic, since any wetlands in this area

could be appropriately called "ice lands," but an important day is coming up next month that deserves attention. World Wetland Day is celebrated across the planet on Feb. 2.

Getting its start in 1997, World Wetland Day is marked to celebrate the signing of the Convention of Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The intergovernmental treaty provided the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Canada joined the conference in 1981 and has designated 35 Ramsar wetland sites.

There are four main types of wetlands - ponds, marshes, swamps, and peatbogs. While each is slightly different they all have similar characteristics, including slow moving water and aquatic plant life, which make them important to our everyday lives.

Here in the Kawarthas, wetlands are vital, but few realize just how important they are to our watershed. Not only do they provide a home to literally thousands of bird, plant and aquatic species, but they also ensure that our lakes are as clean as is naturally possible.

Acting like giant sponges, wetlands absorb contaminants and pollution and filter out sediment making sure the water that leaves them is cleaner than when it entered. Their calm waters allow sediments to slowly filter to the bottom; this ensures our lakes remain clean and beautiful.


10th anniversary of the Boat and Water Sports Show

The Quebec Maritime Association (QMA)
invites media representatives to the official opening of the tenth edition of
the Boat and Water Sports Show, taking place January 29 to February 2, 2009,
at Place Bonaventure. With its renewed and expanded programming, the Boat Show
will have plenty to please boating enthusiasts, with the presentation of many
unique water sports, a new pavilion, technological innovations and the latest
models of boats on the market.
Featured this year will be a nautical fashion show featuring several
Quebec designers, including Shan, Joseph Ribkoff and Caroline Néron, as well
as talks on topics such as boating tourism, fishing and collector's boats.
Preserving the environment is another focus of this anniversary edition of the
Boat Show. Visitors will be able to learn more about the Eco-marinas program,
the Route bleue and energy-efficient boating.
Also at the news conference, there will be the launch of four new
Nautical Stations in Quebec, a unique concept for discovering boating in a
given region. The "Quebec Nautical Station" program, initiated by the QMA,
brings together all players involved in water sports and recreation in a
region. With support from public agencies, it coordinates the services offered
and promotes and encourages boating tourism.


Glitch delays carp wall opening

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said a few weeks ago they would turn on their new electric carp barrier by the end of the month, but the agency scrapped those plans Wednesday because of unforeseen maintenance issues on a largely unused contraption that is now nearly three years old.

The barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was completed in the spring of 2006, but the Army Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard have been wrestling since then over safety issues tied to electrifying a waterway that is heavily used by barges, some of which carry flammable materials.

After years of tests and safety measures that have totaled about $1 million, both agencies say they are now satisfied the barrier can be activated without posing an unreasonable risk to boaters.

The barrier is considered the best hope to keep the oversized Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, but it won't be turned on until engineers can replace a set of defective cooling pipes.

Installing new pipes is expected to take a couple of months, and the hope is that the $9 million device will be turned on sometime in mid to late March.


121 MHz Emergency Radio Beacon Coverage Ends February 1

For boaters cruising offshore, having a way to summon help in an emergency is critical. For years cruisers and racers making offshore passages relied upon EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) utilizing the 121 MHz radio frequency. However, with better technology available in the newer 406 MHz EPIRBs, the U.S. Coast Guard will cease monitoring the old frequency on February 1.

"406 MHz EPIRBs are now the standard for offshore distress signaling," said BoatU.S. Foundation Rental EPIRB Program Manager David Carter. "They have better accuracy, fewer false alerts and greater reliability. Search and rescue agencies are able to respond quicker and pinpoint offshore boaters in trouble."

The BoatU.S. Foundation highly recommends that boaters who make frequent offshore passages — generally considered to be at least 20 miles out from shore and too far for VHF radio or cell phone coverage — purchase and install a new 406 MHz EPIRB. Current retail pricing starts around $500. The Foundation also rents the 406 MHz EPIRBs for only $40 a week for those with a temporary need who only go offshore occasionally.

"Our BoatU.S. EPIRB Rental Program is perfect for someone entering an occasional offshore race, or making that once or twice a year passage to a new cruising ground such as Mexico or the Bahamas," said Carter.

The decision to no longer monitor the 121 MHz radio frequency was made by the international satellite-based search and rescue organization, COSPAS/SARSAT, nearly nine years ago, giving time for mariners to transition to the newer technology.

For more information on the BoatU.S. EPIRB rental program, go to or call 888-66-EPIRB (888-663-7472).