"We haven't done anything," says Gary Fahnenstiel, a senior ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It's all been rhetoric by politicians. I'll be among the first scientists to say: Let's close the Welland Canal. Let's start there. This is ridiculous."That will limit the access of overseas hitchhikers in ballast tanks. There is still the little problem of Asian big-headed carp making their way north in the Illinois River and the Sanitary and Ship Canal.
If bighead carp make their way into the lakes, says Dennis Schornack, President Bush's handpicked person for U.S.-Canadian Great Lakes issues, "then it is just a matter of time before we end up with a carp pond."Suppose the U.S. and Canadian governments did in fact close the Seaway and the Welland Canal. What would the economic consequences be?
Perhaps not much, according to this study conducted for the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. The study notes some 152,000 jobs dependent on cargo movements on what the report calls the "U.S. Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System" as of 2000.
Note the conjuring trick being employed. Absent the Welland Canal, three of the five Lakes would function as a connected ecosystem as well as a contiguous transportation route, and the St. Mary's River from Lake Superior to Lake Huron allows for some movement of fish. The Sault Ste. Marie ("Soo") Locks permit the movement of boats between Lake Superior and the other three Lakes. These locks are much larger than those on the Welland Canal and the Seaway. There are lakers that have been built and remain confined on the Lakes for their entire service lives, transporting iron ore, coal, and sand and gravel aggregates, which are three of the top four cargoes transported on the Lakes. (Iron and steel products, which for the most part move within the contiguous Lakes, are in second place.) Note what is missing: grain (which in principle could be moved from elevators at Duluth-Superior, Milwaukee, and Chicago overseas), paper (Minnesota and Wisconsin ports), timber, and livestock. Those export cargoes can be sent by rail or truck to an Atlantic port.
This site at the University of Michigan identifies some of the invasive species. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel provides an instructive primer on how those hitchhikers get here.