Wisconsin Proposes Modification to Ballast Rule

Monday, December 27, 2010

As a consequence of a year-long feasibility study, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) proposed on Dec. 21 that its Vessel General Permit be modified to harmonize it with international ballast water discharge rules. The requirements become effective in 2012 for new ocean-going vessels and in 2014 for existing ocean-going vessels.

When not fully loaded, commercial cargo ships must take on water (ballast) to maintain their stability. Once pumped on board, ballast water is stored in narrow cavities (ballast tanks) built into the hull of a ship. Ballast water pumped onboard in one port may inadvertently contain aquatic organisms that are then released when ballast is discharged in another port.

In February 2010, the state of Wisconsin began regulating the ballast water discharges of ocean-going commercial vessels in an effort to minimize the transfer of aquatic invasive species. These regulations require vessel operators to install environmental technology to clean or treat ballast water to achieve a specific water quality standard. Wisconsin’s standard was 100 times more stringent than that established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an agency of the United Nations.

The shipping industry had objected to Wisconsin’s water quality standard, insisting that it was unachievable with current technology. As a consequence, the state launched a feasibility study to be concluded at the end of 2010.

The following determinations have been made as a result of that year-long process:

    Testing protocols are not available to verify compliance with Wisconsin’s standard.
    Treatment technologies to meet Wisconsin’s standard are not commercially available at this time.
    At this time it is not feasible to install the treatment technologies onboard vessels.
    Open-ocean salt water flushing has been proven to be effective in helping reduce the threat of aquatic non-indigenous species to U.S. waters. WDNR will retain this practice for the long term in an effort to better protect their waters.

Jason Serck, president of the Wisconsin Commercial Port Association, commented: “I commend the Department of Natural Resources for undertaking this study and proposing a change of regulations to reflect sound science. The proposed change will save Wisconsin jobs by harmonizing Wisconsin’s regulations with those of neighboring states.”

Marc Gagnon, Director of Government Affairs and Regulatory Compliance with Montreal-based Fednav Limited, one of the largest international marine bulk shipping companies in Canada, concurred: “The Wisconsin DNR’s recommendation to adopt the IMO ballast water treatment standards is most encouraging.”

He continued: “In Wisconsin, science and reason have prevailed in recognizing that the IMO ballast water treatment standards are effective, biologically defensible and verifiable. Supplementing those standards, as Wisconsin's regulation stipulates, by requiring that ocean going vessels continue to exchange their ballast at sea or flush their NOBOB tanks with salt water, will ensure that the Great Lakes retain their current standing as the region with the most stringent ballast water requirements anywhere.”
 

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