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Published: Saturday, 2/14/2009

Great Lakes shippers touting their green side

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Scorned by environmentalists for decades, the Great Lakes shipping industry wants the public to consider its greener side as President Obama calls for more energy efficiency.

The industry is circulating a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report that suggests the positive environmental impacts and cost savings of Great Lakes shipping have been overlooked when compared to ground-based transportation sectors such as trains and tractor-trailers.

The report also puts a value on Great Lakes shipping at $3.6 billion a year. That's the first time the value of the region's shipping has been quantified in dollars, said Glen G. Nekvasil, vice president of communications for the Lake Carriers' Association, a Cleveland-based trade group that represents ships that move cargo exclusively within the Great Lakes region.

The Great Lakes navigation system "plays a key role in preserving our nation's fuel" by transporting goods more efficiently than any form of ground transportation, according to the report, called "Great Lakes Navigation System: Economic Strength to the Nation."

"For example, a Great Lakes carrier travels 607 miles on one gallon of fuel per ton of cargo. In contrast, a truck travels a mere 59 miles on one gallon of fuel per ton of cargo and a freight train travels only 202 miles on one gallon of fuel per ton of cargo," the report said.

The Corps, which dredges the Great Lakes shipping channel, also credited the industry for releasing fewer greenhouse gases on a pound-by-pound basis.

"A cargo of 1,000 tons transported by a Great Lakes carrier produces 90 percent less carbon dioxide as compared to the same cargo transported by truck and 70 percent less than the same cargo transported by rail," its report said.

Toledo is one of 63 Great Lakes ports.

The report came on the heels of testimony that James Weakley, Lake Carriers' Association president, delivered to the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Jan. 22 while calling for system improvements as part of the economic stimulus package.

The findings will be used for more lobbying efforts, including the Great Lakes Commission's annual Great Lakes Days with area congressmen Feb. 23-25, Mr. Nekvasil said.

"It's more important than ever that Great Lakes shipping remains viable," he said. "We would certainly hope this is an eye-opener for some people. This is the kind of thing the whole Congress and whole administration [need] to know."

But the National Wildlife Federation, one of several environmental groups that has fought the shipping industry in court over invasive species and other Great Lakes issues, said the industry is premature with its attempted image makeover.

"At least $200 million of damage a year is caused by invasive species, and a large percentage of that has been introduced by the shipping industry," Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation spokesman, said.

Mr. Nekvasil said invasive species have "caused a lot of contentiousness" between environmentalists and the shipping industry, although most of the exotics have been brought to North America by foreign vessels his association doesn't represent.

"They're lumping us all in with everybody," he said.

Great Lakes ships moved 173 million tons of cargo in 2006, 10 percent of all U.S. waterborne domestic traffic, according to the Corps.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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