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New York allows Seaway vessels more time to comply with environmental rules

A Canadian cargo ship passes through the Dwight D. Eisenhower Lock along the St. Lawrence Seaway in Massena, N.Y., on July 9, 2009.

Heather Ainsworth/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The New York state government has given commercial vessels using the St. Lawrence Seaway more time to comply with strict new environmental regulations that threatened to shut down commercial shipping on the Great Lakes at the end of the year.

But industry representatives maintained Tuesday that they would be unable to meet New York's new standards for safely flushing ballast water, no matter what the deadline.

On Monday, New York's Department of Environmental Conservation began sending out letters to ship owners telling them the Jan. 1, 2012 deadline for meeting new ballast water standards had been set back to Aug. 1, 2013.

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However, "the department expects you to play an active role" in ensuring that vessels comply with New York's standards when the new deadline arrives, wrote James Tierney, the department's assistant commissioner.

New York surprised and alarmed the Canadian government, ship owners and industry leaders when it imposed standards for vessels discharging ballast water that critics say are 100 times stricter than international standards that were established in 2006.

Because it is impossible to enter or leave the Seaway without passing through New York waters, ship owners and the Canadian government feared commercial vessels would be forced off the Great Lakes when the new rules were to come into effect next January.

The extended deadline gives all sides more time to work toward a compromise, but it has done nothing to mollify Seaway users.

"This does not bring about any end to the uncertainty over the current situation," said Jean Aubry-Morin, a vice-president with St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., which operates the Canadian side of the seaway.

The delay "still does not address the fact that a lone U.S. state is attempting to impede Canadian-international and interprovincial trade," Ray Johnston, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said in a statement.

But the state and environmental groups insist the New York regulations are needed to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species that can enter the lakes when vessels flush ballast water taken on in other parts of the world.

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Mr. Tierney in his letter said new technology would be available by 2013 that would allow ships to meet the New York standard.

Mr. Aubry-Morin disagreed. "It's not because we're not trying to find a solution," he maintained.

But Jennifer Nalbone, of the environmental group Great Lakes United, said the industry was foot dragging.

"New York is telling industry they have to play a very active role in solving this tremendous problem, not just creating it," she said.

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