Major Dock Corrosion Stumps Officials

  • The Duluth Seaway Port Authority's bulk cargo dock is typical of many in the port. Officials are troubled by corrosion appearing on the docks in the harbor - the steel is corroding much faster than normal. (Photo by Bob Kelleher)

Corrosion is eating away at the steel walls that hold one of the Great Lakes’ busiest harbors together. The corrosion is unlike anything known to be happening in any other Great Lakes port. But other port officials are being encouraged to take a closer look at their own underwater steel. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bob Kelleher reports:

Transcript

Corrosion is eating away at the steel walls that hold
one of the Great Lakes’ busy harbors together. The
corrosion is unlike anything known to be happening in
any other Great Lakes port. But other port officials
are being encouraged to take a closer look at their own
underwater steel. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Bob Kelleher reports:


Some kind of corrosion is eating away at the Duluth
Seaway port’s docks. The docks are those long
earth-filled metal rectangles where ships from around
the world tie up to load and unload. Those docks are
lined with sheets of steel, and the steel is rusting
away. Jim Sharrow is the Duluth
Seaway Port Authorities Facilities Manager.


“It’s corroding quickly – much faster than people expect
in fresh water. And our main concern is that we’ll lose
the integrity and the strength of the dock long before
expected, and have to do steel replacement at $1,500 or
more per lineal foot, much earlier than ever would have
been expected.”


Corrosion should be a slow process in Duluth’s cold
fresh water. But, Sharrow says, there’s evidence it’s
been happening remarkably quickly for about thirty years.


“What we seem to see here is corrosion that started in
the mid 1970s. We have steel that’s 100 years olds
that’s about as similarly corroded to steel that is 25
to 30 years old.”


It’s a big problem. There’s about thirteen miles of
steel walls lining docks in the harbor that serves
Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. There’s half
again as many feet of wooden docks, held together with
steel pins. There’s corrosion on the legs of highway
bridges and the giant
steel ore docks that ship millions of tons of taconite
– a type of iron shipped to steel mills in Gary,
Indiana and Cleveland, Ohio.


“We characterize this as a 100-million dollar problem in
the harbor. It’s a huge problem, and what is so odd
about this is that we only see it happening in the
navigational area of the Duluth-Superior Harbor.”


The harbor links the St Louis River with Lake Superior.
Go a few miles up the river and there’s little corrosion
. So it doesn’t seem like the problem’s there. But, back
in the harbor, at the current rate of corrosion, Sharrow
says, the steel will fail quickly.


“I figure that in about 10 years at the current rate,
we will have to start replacing steel.”


“Particularly marginal operators could decide rather
than repair their docks it would be better for them to
go out of business, and we’re hoping that that isn’t
the case here.”


While the cause is a mystery, there’s no shortage of
theories. It could have something to do with stray
electrical voltage; water acidity; or the kinds of
steel manufactured in recent years. Chad Scott
discovered the corrosion in the late 1990’s. He’s an
engineer and a diver. Scott suspects
a micro-biological connection. He says there might be
something growing in small round pits that form on the
steel.


“We cleaned up the water. That’s the main thing –
that’s one of the main changes that’s happened since
the 70s, is we’ve cleaned up our water. We’ve cleaned
up our harbor, which is a good thing. But, when we
cleaned things up we also induced more dissolved oxygen
and more sunlight can penetrate the water, which tends
to usually promote more growth – more marine
microbiology growth.”


A team of experts met in Duluth in September to share
ideas. They came from the U.S. Navy, The Army Corp of
Engineers, and Ohio State University. And they agreed
there’s something odd going on – possibly related to
microbes or water chemistry. They also recommend that
other Great Lakes ports take a closer look at their
underwater steel. Scott says they at least helped
narrow the focus.


“We have a large laundry list right now. We want to
narrow that down and try to decide what is the real
cause of this corrosion. And these experts, hopefully,
will be able to get us going on the right direction,
so we can start doing testing that will identify the
problem.”


With the experts recommendations in hand, port
officials are now planning a formal study. If they
do figure out the cause, then they’ve got to figure
out how to prevent it. They’re in a race with
something, and right now they don’t even know with
what.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bob Kelleher.

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Point: Agreements Will Help Protect Great Lakes

  • The proposed Annex 2001 agreement is the subject of lively debate as to whether it will help or hinder the conservation of the Great Lakes (Photo by Jeremy Lounds)

In 1998, an Ontario company wanted to sell Lake Superior water overseas. Their proposal raised fears that Great Lakes water could be diverted with little oversight. Now, officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have come up with two proposed agreements that would regulate new water diversion requests. The proposed agreements are known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Cameron Davis says the agreements are a good first step in protecting a cherished resource:

Transcript

In 1998 an Ontario company wanted to sell Lake Superior water overseas. Their
proposal raised fears that Great Lakes water could be diverted with little oversight.
Now, officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have come up with
two proposed agreements that would regulate new water diversion requests. The proposed
agreements are known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Great Lakes Radio Consortium
commentator Cameron Davis says the agreements are a good first step in protecting a cherished
resource:


When I was growing up, my family and I used to go to the beach every Sunday. As I stood
looking out over Lake Michigan, I was awed at how it seemed to go on forever. Today I know
better. The Great Lakes are a gift left from the glaciers thousands of years ago. That’s
because less than 1% of Great Lakes water is renewed every year from rainfall, snowmelt,
and groundwater recharge.


Two proposed agreements by the states and provinces would make diversions of Great Lakes water
to places outside of the Great Lakes a virtual impossibility.


The agreements look to be a vast improvement over current laws. First, federal law in the U.S.
allows a diversion only if every Great Lakes Governor approves. That seems like a tough standard
to meet, but in fact, it’s already allowed two diversions of Great Lakes water to take place. In
the 1990’s, diversions were approved to Pleasant Prairie in Wisconsin and another one to Akron,
Ohio. The water was used for municipal supplies.


Second, the proposed agreements are an improvement over the Boundary Waters Treaty – a pact
signed between the U.S. and Canada almost 100 years ago. The treaty doesn’t cover one very
important Great Lake: Lake Michigan. Because Lake Michigan is solely within the U.S. and not
shared with Canada, the treaty leaves the lake unprotected. This is a problem because Lake
Michigan is directly connected to Lake Huron. So water diverted out of Lake Michigan means
water diverted out of Lake Huron.


The agreements are a good first step, but they need to be stronger. For example, they require
regional approval for diversions of water that go outside of the basin of more than one million
gallons per day, but they don’t require regional approval for withdrawals of up to 5 million
gallons per day that stay in the Great Lakes. In addition, the draft agreements need to do a
better job at requiring water conservation before potential water withdrawals can be considered.


We have a choice. We can be against the agreements and keep the status quo or work to make
them even stronger. We need to work to protect our region’s water so that our kids can continue
to look out over the Great Lakes and see them for what they are: vast, magnificent, but fragile
natural treasures.


Host Tag: Cameron Davis is the executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation.

Related Links

Group Says Trendy Seafood Being Overharvested

  • Believe it or not, this is the hot new trend in seafood. The Patagonian Toothfish was given a more marketable name: Chilean Sea Bass. (Photo courtesy of National Environmental Trust)

A popular fish at restaurants has become too popular. According to one environmental group, Chilean Sea Bass is being illegally overharvested. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

A popular fish at restaurants has become too popular. According to one environmental
group, Chilean Sea Bass is being illegally overharvested. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Chilean Sea Bass has been the fish of choice for many chefs’ signature dishes. That has
driven up prices for the fish. Andrea Cavanaugh is with the environmental group the National
Environmental Trust. She says the group has found evidence that illegal Chilean Sea Bass is
ending up on your plate.


“Pirate boats that are out on the high seas flaunt the guidelines, [do] not listen to quotas,
they can take fish where they’re not supposed to take fish and nobody is out there monitoring
what’s going on on individual vessels.”


Cavanaugh says besides needing tighter international and national guidelines on fishing, the best
way to deal with the problem is to get people to stop ordering Chilean Sea Bass.


“There’s such a wide range of fish to choose from for American consumers that there should
be a healthy balance out there.”


Cavanaugh says the Chilean Sea Bass is only the latest species to be overharvested to meet a
hot trend in food.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Gardeners Have Hand in Invasive Species Control

  • Centaurea diffusa a.k.a. Spotted knapweed. Introduced in the late 1800's, knapweed can reduce diversity in the region's prairies. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

Gardeners have been ordering new plants and digging in the dirt this spring, but if they’re not careful, they could be introducing plants that can cause havoc with forests, lakes, and other natural areas. Gardeners can’t count on their suppliers to warn them about plants that can damage the local ecosystems. In another report in the series, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Gardeners have been ordering new plants and digging in the dirt this spring, but, if
they’re not careful, they could be introducing plants that can cause havoc with forests,
lakes, and other natural areas. Gardeners can’t count on their suppliers to warn them
about plants that can damage the local ecosystems. In another report in the series “Your
Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Gardening, especially flower gardening, seems to get more popular all the time. Maybe
it’s because the baby-boomers have all reached that age where they’re beginning to
appreciate stopping for a moment to smell the roses.


That’s fine. In fact if gardeners plant the right kinds of plants… it can be great for
wildlife. There are all kinds of guides for backyard natural areas.


But… in some cases… gardeners can unleash plant pests on the environment.


Katherine Kennedy is with the Center for Plant Conservation. She says almost all of the
problem plants that damage the native ecosystems were planted with good intentions…


“I don’t believe that any invasive species has ever been introduced into the United States
on purpose by someone who willingly said, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be a problem, but I
don’t care.’ They’ve almost all been inadvertent problems that were introduced by
someone who thought they were doing something good or who thought they were
bringing in something beautiful.”


English ivy, a decorative ground cover, is now killing forests in the Pacific Northwest…
kudzu is doing the same in the southeast… and in the Great Lakes region and the
Midwest… pretty flowering plants such as purple loosestrife and water plants such as
Eurasian watermilfoil are causing damage to wetlands, crowding out native plants and
disturbing the habitat that many wildlife species need to survive.


Bob Wilson works in the Michigan Senate Majority policy office. Like many other
states, Michigan is looking at legislation to ban certain problem plants. Wilson agrees
that these plant pests are generally not intentional… but they do show that people seem to
unaware of the problems that they’re causing…


“The two most common vectors for bringing in these kinds of plants are typically
landscapers, who bring it in as a way of decorating yards and lawns, and then aquarium
dumpers, people who inadvertently dump their aquarium, thinking that there’s no
consequence to that. Before you know it, something that was contained is now spread.”


But stopping the import of pest plants is a lot harder than just passing laws that ban them.
With mail order and Internet orders from large nurseries so common, the plants can get
shipped to a local nursery, landscaper or local gardener without the government ever
knowing about it.


Recently, botanists, garden clubs, and plant nursery industry groups put together some
codes of conducts. Called the St. Louis Protocol or the St. Louis Declaration… the
document set out voluntary guidelines for the industry and gardeners to follow to avoid
sending plants to areas where they can cause damage.


Sarah Reichard is a botanist with the University of Washington. She helped put the St.
Louis Protocol together. She says if a nursery signs on to the protocol, it will help stop
invasive plant species from being shipped to the wrong places….


“And it’s up to each of the nursery owners, particularly those who sell mail order or
Internet, to go and find out which species are banned in each state.” LG: And is that
happening?
“Uh, I think most nursery people are pretty responsible and are trying to
do the best that they can. I’m sure that they’re very frustrated and understandably so
because the tools aren’t really out there for them and it is very difficult to find the
information. So, it’s a frustrating situation for them.”


But in preparing this report, we found that some of the biggest mail-order nurseries had
never heard of the St. Louis protocol. And many of the smaller nurseries don’t have the
staff or resources to check out the potential damage of newly imported plants… or even
to check out each state to make sure that banned plants aren’t being sent inadvertently.


Sarah Reichard says that means gardeners… you… need to do some homework before
ordering that pretty flowering vine. Is it banned in your state? Is it a nuisance that could
cause damage? Reichard says if enough gardeners care, they can make a difference…


“You know, gardeners have tremendous power. We, you know, the people that are
buying the plants at the nurseries – that’s what it’s all about. I mean, the nurseries are
there to provide a service to provide plants to those people and if those people have
certain tastes and demands such as not wanting to buy and plant invasive species, the
nurseries are going to respond to it. So, we’re all part of one team.”


Reichard and others concerned about the problem say although agencies are working on
it… the federal government has not yet done enough to effectively stop invasives from
being imported and shipped to the wrong areas. They say it’s up to the nurseries, the
botanists, and the gardeners to stop them. If not, we’ll all pay in tax money as
government agencies react to invasives with expensive eradication programs to try to get
rid of the plants invading parks, preserves, and other natural areas.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

GARDENERS HAVE HAND IN INVASIVE SPECIES CONTROL (Short Version)

  • Centaurea diffusa a.k.a. Spotted knapweed. Introduced in the late 1800's, knapweed can reduce diversity in the region's prairies. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

Gardeners are being asked to be careful about what they plant. Invasive species that cause damage to natural areas often start as a pretty plant in someone’s yard. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

http://environmentreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2004/05/graham2_053104.mp3

Transcript

Gardeners are being asked to be careful about what they plant. Invasive species that
cause damage to natural areas often start as a pretty plant in someone’s yard. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Botanists, plant nurseries and gardeners are all being asked to do a little more homework
before importing, selling, or planting new kinds of plants. Katherine Kennedy is with the
Center for Plant Conservation. She says some of the plants you mail order from the
nursery can end up being invasive kinds of plants that damage the local ecosystem…


“We are actually at a point where these invasions crowd out the native community, not
just a species or two, but the entire community. And the wildlife value falls and the
native plants are displaced. And, so, the destructive potential for a species that becomes
truly invasive is more immense than I think many people realize.”


Kennedy says you can’t count on the nursery to warn you when you order plants. She
says gardeners have to make sure the plants they’re ordering won’t hurt the surrounding
landscape.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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