SAUGATUCK — Efforts to prevent the induction of non-native species into the Great Lakes now move to the federal level, with the signing of state legislation that will require ocean-going vessels to monitor and, if needed, treat their ballast water.
Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus signed the bill into law last week in Saugatuck, calling alien species such as zebra mussels and goby fish a growing threat to the Great Lakes’ ecology.
“We’re on our way here,” said state Sen. Ken Sikkema, R-Grandville, the sponsor of the legislation.
Sikkema hopes the Michigan law will lead to similar measures in other states and eventually a federal statute.
“It just makes sense to have one law apply to all states in the Great Lakes basin,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, have both introduced measures in Congress to combat exotic species in the Great Lakes.
The state law required the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to study and choose by March 1, 2002, the best technology available for local and foreign shippers to use in monitoring and cleansing their ballast water. Shippers then will have a year to begin using the technology.
Sikkema’s hope is to have a method proven successful, eliminating the argument that no viable technology exists to effectively clean ballast water before it’s discharged, and eventually spurring federal action.
“Once you get ships using the technology, that argument is over,” Sikkema said. “It will demonstrate there’s something out there that will solve the problem.
“I just think that you’re going to see a snowball effect. We’re going to get to the point where Washington is going to be embarrassed into doing something.”
Sikkema calls the law a “market-based approached that creates a reason for ocean-going vessels to use ballast treatment technology.” Businesses in Michigan that use non-complying vessels will become ineligible for any state loan, grant or award the DEQ administers.
The law’s signing culminated 18 months of efforts to enact legislature designed to combat alien species entering the Great Lakes. The law was a compromise measure supported by the maritime industry and by business and environmental advocates in Michigan.
“The Great Lakes define Michigan, and one of the most critical risks facing them is the invasion of foreign species,” Posthumus said. “These species don’t belong in the Great Lakes. We don’t want them in the Great Lakes. And for the health of our water and economy, we need to stop them from coming in.”
Posthumus signed the legislation in the absence of Gov. John Engler, who was attending the National Governors Association annual summer meeting in Washington, D.C.