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Questions for Terry Johnson, Administrator, Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation

December 7, 2011

GREAT LAKES-SEAWAY NEWS                                                            

“Questions for Terry Johnson, Administrator, Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation”

With five years now under his belt as Administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) and still two years remaining on his seven-year term, Great Lakes-Seaway News sat down with SLSDC Administrator Collister “Terry” Johnson Jr. to assess the current state of the SLSDC and the future of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway maritime industry.

GLSN:  You have now served five years of your seven-year term of office.  What do you view as your biggest contributions to the SLSDC and the Great Lakes-Seaway maritime industry during that time?

Johnson:  Well, let me begin by challenging the premise of your question.  One thing I have learned is that nothing happens in this industry or in government through the actions of just one person.  For example, I hope everyone would agree that the SLSDC’s Asset Renewal Program has been an important contribution to the entire Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System’s long-term health.  We’ve begun the fourth year of a $200 million dollar, ten-year, 55-project program to make a major capital reinvestment in the Seaway’s aging infrastructure.  Getting the approval of that program was a total team effort, consisting of talented and dedicated SLSDC staff doing great engineering and budget work, great support from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Office of Management and Budget and key Members of Congress.  Let me also add that our partners in Canada are making a similar major investment in their infrastructure at the same time, because our system requires that we act together to manage and support this bi-national system.

Other successes we have achieved during the last few years include the Comprehensive Vessel Inspection Process in Montreal, the Ballast Water Collaborative, the Great Ships Initiative - the only fresh water ballast water testing facility in the world,  the recent completion of the comprehensive economic impact analysis for the System, the Marine Delivers communication program, and the Green Marine environmental improvement program, All of them came about through the same elements of communication, collaboration and cooperation.     

GLSN:  You still have two years left in your seven-year term.  What other things would you like to accomplish in the next two years? 

Johnson:  The first thing on my agenda is to help find a solution to the ballast water treatment issue.  As your publication has reported, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has put in place a set of ballast water regulations that, according to the recently completed economic impact study, threatens tens of thousands of maritime industry jobs in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System, and throughout the U.S. and Canada.  This regulation also imperils thousands of jobs in and around the Port of New York/New Jersey and in Albany itself. Unlike the so-called man-made global warming debate, in this case the science is settled: there is no technology that can meet the New York standard. For the SLSDC’s part, the scientists and practitioners of the Ballast Water Collaborative all agree that no new invasive species have entered the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway since we implemented the new ballast water management regime in 2006.  Clearly, the science argument is on our side.  The technology argument is on our side.  Forty-nine states, the government of Canada and the U.N. International Maritime Organization are on our side, but having said all that it may take still take additional federal regulation and legislation and international cooperation to solve this problem in the long run.

Beyond the ballast water challenge, I would also like to see what we could do to help attract liner container service to the Great Lakes; improve the competitiveness of the Great Lakes-Seaway System; reform the Harbor Maintenance Tax; and spread the message that the maritime transportation is the greenest form of commercial cargo transportation.     

GLSN:  Looking forward, what do you see as the System’s greatest challenges and/or opportunities? 

Johnson:  I think we have to be vigilant regarding everything we do relating to the environment.  The maritime industry’s biggest selling point should be the environmentally-friendly nature of moving cargo by water.

I also feel strongly that as more and more cargo is containerized,  the Great Lakes-Seaway System must find a way to attract liner container service to trade in the System.  The Seaway can’t continue to be left out of the container revolution in shipping.

GLSN:  What is the economic outlook for the System in the short term?

Johnson:  It is positive.  For example, in addition to the recovery of our staple commodities – iron ore, steel, grain – there is a rapidly growing demand for export Powder River coal to be shipped by water to Europe.  Export wood pellets also hold great promise.  As the U.S. economy recovers, so will Seaway traffic.

But the best statement about the future economic viability of the Seaway is being made by our Canadian domestic and international fleet owners, who in the last year have invested over $500 million in new-build, Seaway sized ships that will be entering the System starting in mid-2012.  This infusion of private sector capital is a huge vote of confidence in the future health of the Seaway.