When Animals and Airplanes Collide

  • Airport Operations Manager Todd Laps uses pyrotechnics - and sometimes just plain old honking the car horn - to harass birds and keep them away from the airport. (Photo by Julie Grant)

If you bite your nails every time
you’re on a plane – the increasing
number of bird strikes might give
you one more reason for concern.
Julie Grant reports on efforts to
prevent airplanes from hitting birds:

Transcript

If you bite your nails every time
you’re on a plane – the increasing
number of bird strikes might give
you one more reason for concern.
Julie Grant reports on efforts to
prevent airplanes from hitting birds:

Todd Laps probably never envisioned that he’d spend his days harassing
birds. He’s operations manager at the Akron-Canton Airport in Ohio.

(sound of a plane landing)

But for the past few years, he’s started doing everything he can to keep
birds off the runway.

(sound of a horn)

Sometimes he just chases them in a truck while honking the horn.

“If you chase them around enough, they get tired of it, and they leave.
But you may have to drive around blowing the horn for five minutes to get
them to leave.”

(sound of a horn)

It’s not that Laps hates birds. He’s actually trying to save them –
from getting sucked into plane engines. That’s pretty bad for the birds.
It can also damage the planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration says bird strikes have killed more than
200 people worldwide since 1988 – and cost the U.S. aviation industry
hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ever since geese took out both engines in US Airways flight 1549 earlier
this year – leading to that dramatic flight into the Hudson River –
more airports are paying attention to the surrounding wildlife.

Mike Begier is national coordinator of the Airport Wildlife Hazards Program
with the US Department of Agriculture.

He says populations of larger birds – such as geese – are increasing. At
the same time, there are more planes in the air then there used to be.

“So we’re competing for the same airspace. So it’s a probability.
The more times you fly, the more chances you have to strike something.”

Begier says most airports were built a little outside of the city, in
green, wet areas. And those places attract lots of birds and animals.

“Birds may want to stop over there and rest. Airports that do not have
adequate fencing wind up being a refuge for deer or coyote.”

At the Akron airport, they’ve recently cut down 40 acres of trees to make
the area less attractive to wildlife. They’ve also started mowing more
to discourage bugs. Without bugs, there are fewer small mammals and birds.
The folks in Akron think it’s made a difference reducing the number of
accidents.

Airports are not required to report wildlife strikes. Some do voluntarily.
When the FAA opened up its records on collisions between planes and birds
and coyotes and even alligators this year, it looked like the number of
accidents was on the rise at some airports.

But Begier says those numbers don’t provide an accurate picture.
Airports don’t have to report them, so as many as 80% of strikes still go
unreported.

“So when we see these high numbers of strikes, it’s important to
realize that the airports are actually being proactive, that they’re
reporting their strikes – which is a very good thing.”

Begier gives the example of JFK airport in New York. It’s in the top ten
airports nationwide reporting the most wildlife strikes. That sounds bad.
But because JFK voluntarily reported accidents, biologists were able to
figure out part of its problem. When the nearby bayberry bushes were ripe,
they were attracting lots of birds. By removing the bushes, they reduced
the number of accidents.

Researchers are also experimenting with higher tech solutions at airports.
They’re trying laser lights to harass birds away from hangars, using
small radar units to track birds and warn planes of approaching danger, and
using pulsating lights on planes to mimic bird predators.

But for USDA wildlife biologist Rebecca Mihalco, the old fashioned methods
are the most rewarding – at least today. She works at the
Cleveland-Hopkins airport and just caught a red-tailed hawk.

“I’m always excited when I catch a hawk. I guess I’m a kid that
way.”

Mihalco drove the hawk far away from the airport and released it.

But to avoid so many accidents with wildlife, airports will have to do
better than catching them one at a time or chasing after birds and honking
at them.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Turbulent Fuel Prices Hit Airlines Hard

  • Airlines say that there needs to be more regulation on oil speculators. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Recent swings in the price of
crude oil are leading to more
trouble for the US airline
industry. Rebecca Williams
reports:

Transcript

Recent swings in the price of
crude oil are leading to more
trouble for the US airline
industry. Rebecca Williams
reports:

Even though oil futures are trading for half of what they were last summer, the airlines are not happy.

David Castelveter is with the Air Transport Association. He says wild price swings for oil make it tough for the industry to plan ahead.

“They hedge their fuel purchases when the price is high at a lower rate and if the price of fuel goes low then they’re hedged in at higher rates and it costs them money.”

Airlines would like to raise ticket prices, but, with the recession, they’re worried no one will buy them.

So instead, they’re trying to cut back on how much fuel they use. Airlines are retrofitting planes with winglets that cut fuel consumption.

But that takes money and time. So in the meantime, they’re also cutting jobs and routes.

The industry’s putting pressure on Congress to force more transparency in the oil futures trading market.

They’re hoping more regulation on oil speculators would mean fewer price swings.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Watering Down Airport Waste

  • The airport in Portland has installed water collection drains for passengers to dump liquids before getting on their flights. (Photo courtesy of the Port of Portland)

Three years ago, the Department
of Homeland Security passed new
regulations. If you’re a regular
flyer, you know them well: no more
bringing your drinks on the airplane.
It turns out that this ruling isn’t
just inconvenient for us – it’s also
inconvenient for the environment.
Deena Prichep reports
on the beverage restrictions, and
what one airport is doing about it:

Transcript

Three years ago, the Department
of Homeland Security passed new
regulations. If you’re a regular
flyer, you know them well: no more
bringing your drinks on the airplane.
It turns out that this ruling isn’t
just inconvenient for us – it’s also
inconvenient for the environment.
Deena Prichep reports
on the beverage restrictions, and
what one airport is doing about it:

(sound of an airport)

Modern air travel can be a hassle. We take off our shoes, take off our belts, and get rid of our drinks. Announcements like this one are so common that you barely notice them:

“Morning, folks. Make sure you drink up those beverages prior to going through. That includes bottled water, sodas, juice, coffee.”

Okay, you might notice him. That’s Roger Nelson. He’s a TSA guy at the Portland International Airport.

For most of us, following Nelson’s instructions isn’t really a big deal. But while the impact on the passenger is small, the impact on the environment can be bigger than you’d think.

After the ban on carry-on beverages was put in place, many airports saw a big rise in their checkpoint waste. At Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport, the weight of their trash went up 25%. In the Houston Airport system, checkpoint waste collection went up 70%. Even at an airport the size of Portland’s, they estimate up to a ton of liquid per day was ending up in the waste stream.

Stan Jones is the environmental compliance manager at the Port of Portland. He watches airport trash and recycling to see how good a job they’re doing:

“If we look in the recycling at the checkpoints, people have recycled bottles, but they’re full of beverages. And one thing we don’t want in our recycling is liquids, because the recycling centers don’t want a bunch of wet papers, which wrecks the quality of the recycling. At the same time, we’re seeing if we look in the garbage at the checkpoints, same thing, we got bottles half-full of water, bottles full of water.”

Jones oversees many programs that cut waste at the airport. So he looked into tackling this problem as well. And he found that this wasn’t just an environmental problem – it was costing the airport money. Up to $100 a day in extra dump fees. The tossed-out drinks were also costing money on the staffing side. Janitors struggled to get a handle on overflowing watery trashcans.

Jenny Taylor coordinates the facilities staff.

“One of the things we did was increase the frequency in which the cans were dumped, from every two hours to half an hour. So that was almost a full-time position. That ended up being roughly $100 buck a day, or between $30 and $40,000 a year.”

So with up to $100 a day for extra dumping, and $100 a day for extra staffing, the waste was costing the Airport about $75,000 a year.

So the Port launched a program last fall to tackle the problem. They set up stainless steel collection bins right outside the security checkpoints. Twice a day they’re wheeled off, measured, and drained into modified mop sinks, by janitors like Jason Weixel.

(sound of water draining)

“And, almost 25, I’d say 24 gallons today.”

The liquids flow into the sewer system, instead of being hauled to a landfill, and the empty bottles can then be recycled.

But changing people’s recycling habits can be difficult, especially when they’re running for a flight. Many travelers still toss full bottles into the trash without even noticing the new drains.

But at the Portland International Airport, people like Roger Nelson are there to remind them.

“We do have pouring stations. Yes, the big PS, either left or right, just pour it into there. Once you do pour it, empty out, take the empty bottle with you, fill it up on the other side. Our water is cold, filtered and free. Did I get you on the free part, right?”

So far this little solution is working. The dump stations are diverting several thousand pounds of liquid from the trash every month. And the Port of Portland is working with other airports looking to set up similar systems.

For The Environment Report, I’m Deena Prichep.

Related Links

Airports Ask for Bailout

  • Fuel costs are skyrocketing. That means air carriers are cutting back on routes... and airports say they're losing revenue as a result. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

The airport industry says high fuel prices are

threatening the stability of the entire system. Rebecca

Williams reports the industry wants its fuel needs to be

given top priority:

Transcript

The airport industry says high fuel prices are threatening the stability of the entire system. Rebecca Williams reports the industry wants its fuel needs to be given top priority:


Fuel is a big deal for the airline industry. The industry says for every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil – fuel costs go up 465 million dollars for the airlines.

So they’ve been cutting back… stopping service on more than 400 routes since March.

And for airports… that means losing their main source of revenue.

So they want the federal government to bail them out if fuel keeps going up.

Sean Broderick is with the American Association of Airport Executives.

“Petroleum based products are what make airplanes fly, period. And while industry and aircraft manufacturers are working on alternatives there is no equivalent to wind power.”

The group wants the government to allow airlines to borrow from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve… or be given subsidies for jet fuel.

For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Eminent Domain Debated

  • The intersection of Devon and Broadway in Chicago, just a few blocks from Lake Michigan. Alderman Patrick O'Connor is concerned that this corner is a bad use of space - not as walkable as the rest of the neighborhood. (Photo by Shawn Allee)

Cities are always coming up with projects to improve land or even create jobs, and sometimes existing buildings just don’t fit into those plans. Often, owners of such property won’t sell to make way for new development. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on the legality of one tool cities use to force reluctant landowners to sell. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee looks at one politician’s use of this legal power:

Transcript

Cities are always coming up with projects to improve land
or even create jobs, and sometimes existing buildings just don’t fit
into those plans. Often, owners of such property won’t sell to make
way for new development. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on the
legality of one tool cities use to force reluctant landowners to sell. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee looks at one
politician’s use of this legal power:


This big-city neighborhood is the kind of place where shoppers usually park their cars and walk around. Brick store fronts and restaurants are usually just a few feet from the sidewalk.


But there’s a corner that looks different, though. A lot different.


It’s home to three fast-food buildings. The first business is a popular donut shop. Next door, there’s a fried chicken drive-through. And the last building was once a burger joint, but today it’s home to a car title lender.


To hear the alderman, Patrick O’Connor, tell it, the strip looks like a piece of suburbia landed right in his big-city ward.


“There’s no symmetry, no walkability, it’s all car-related and it’s all basically parking lot. There’s more asphalt than there is building in those places.”


He says this corner on Chicago’s North Side is a bad use of space, and he’s hoping to attract new, more pedestrian-friendly businesses or buildings. But what’s to be done about it if these shops are already there and don’t want to sell? One of O’Connor’s options is to have the city force the owners to sell their properties and then redevelop the land.


The power to forcibly buy property is called eminent domain, and O’Connor says the city’s using it to speed redevelopment throughout Chicago. But O’Connor’s concerned time may run out on the use of this power.


Governments have long-used eminent domain for public use. For example, a city or state might condemn a whole neighborhood, buy out the homeowners, and level the buildings to make way for a road or airport.


But the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Kelo versus New London, is considering just how far government can go when using eminent domain to bolster private development.


O’Connor hopes the court sides with local governments.


“In our community there’s not too many open spaces. So what we look to do is to enhance what we have to try to utilize space to the maximum effectiveness. That’s really where the court case hinges, you know, Who’s to say one use is better than another?”


And that question – who decides the best use of a property – is the rallying cry of critics who say cities abuse eminent domain powers.


Sam Staley’s with the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think-tank. He says the Supreme Court case is really about fairness.


“Those people that know how to use the system and know the right people in city council really have the ability to compel a neighbor or another property to sell their property whether they want to or not.”


Staley and other property rights advocates are also convinced that cities don’t need eminent domain for economic development. Staley says local economies can improve without government interference.


“The private sector’s just gotten lazy. They no longer want to have to go through the market, so they don’t come up with creative ways of accommodating property rights of the people that own the pieces of land or building that they want to develop.”


Staley says, instead, developers find it easier to have cities use eminent domain.


But most urban planners and some environmentalists say a court decision against this use of eminent domain could threaten redevelopment of both cities and aging suburbs. John Echevarria is with Georgetown University’s Environmental Law and Policy Institute.


“If you don’t have the power of eminent domain, you can’t do effective downtown redevelopment. The inevitable result would be more shopping centers, more development on the outskirts of urban areas, and more sprawl.”


Alderman O’Connor says constituents will always push urban politicians to put scarce land to better use. He says that won’t change if the court strikes down the broadest eminent domain powers; cities will just have to resort to strong-arm tactics instead.


“The alternative is the city then has to become harsher on how they try to enforce laws. They have to try and run sting operations and go after businesses that are breaking the law and then try to close them down and live with empty places until the sellers get tired and they sell.”


The small business community finds this attitude outrageous. They say as long as they improve their businesses and people frequent them, the market should decide whether they stay or go.


On the other hand, urban planners say the market doesn’t always make best use of land. They say local governments need eminent domain powers to control development, and they’re looking to the court to protect those powers.


For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

Airport Land to Become a Playground for Pups?

  • One airport in the region is considering turning some of its unused land into a playground for dogs and their owners. (Photo by Kat Shurtz)

Large expanses of open land often surround airport buildings and runways as noise buffers. Now, at one airport in the region, there’s a plan to put that land to use. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:

Transcript

Large expanses of open land often surround airport buildings and runways as noise buffers. Now, at one airport in the region, there’s a plan to put that land to use. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:


When Ryan Mccue was a city official in Milwaukee, he says he took call after call from residents complaining that animals were running loose in area parks. The problem was dog owners weren’t keeping their pets on leashes. Now Mccue thinks he’s come up with a solution: set up a dog exercise area on land unlikely to be used for anything else.


“The airport has a lot of land that’s vacant. And it’s a great spot for it. There aren’t very many neighbors around the airport so the dogs barking won’t disturb any neighbors.”


If aproved, the exercise area would be established on land owned by Mitchell International Airport near Milwaukee. He says the 27 acres would be fenced in and kept separate from the airport
facilities. Mccue says, so far, the airport and the FAA are supportive of the plan. And if it’s approved, he says it could be used as an example of how other airports can make use of their open space.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Christina Shockley.

Cost of Taking Eagle Off Endangered Species List

  • The American Bald Eagle has made a remarkable recovery. It's done so well, it might soon be taken off the Endangered Species list. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)

With more than 7600 breeding pairs in the continental United States alone, the American Bald Eagle has made a remarkable comeback. A new proposal to remove the bird from the Endangered Species list is expected soon. But that means removing a powerful safety net that can affect future research, monitoring and habitat protection. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:

Transcript

With more than 7600 breeding pairs in the continental United States alone, the
American Bald Eagle has made a remarkable comeback. A new proposal to remove the
bird from the Endangered Species list is expected soon. But that means removing a
powerful safety net that can affect future research, monitoring and habitat protection.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:


In the history of the Endangered Species Act, only a dozen or so of the more than 1200
plants and animals listed as threatened or endangered have actually recovered. The eagle
may be the latest to join that little group.


(Young birder: “I see a big birdie…”)


This is a pretty unlikely spot for an eagle — a manmade wetland by a landfill in a busy
airport flight path on the outskirts of Detroit. But state wildlife biologist Joe Robison
shows this young visitor the bulky nest across the marsh where two adult birds are
teaching their gangly fledglings to fly.


“Something just landed in the tree out there. Oh. That’s the other juvenile. This is the
first time I’ve seen them flying this year. They look like they’re flying good though.”


These birds are among more than 400 pairs in Michigan monitored by state and federal
wildlife officials. The eagles are banded, the nests are watched and when a bird dies it
ends up in the freezer of wildlife pathologist Tom Cooley.


(sound of Cooley opening the freezer)


“Lots and lots of ’em. You can see that one was a road kill along I-75…”


Right now, Cooley’s freezer is brim full of dead birds stacked like frozen Thanksgiving
turkeys in plastic bags. Road kill has become the leading cause of death among eagles
he examines, but Cooley says they still investigate suspicious looking deaths for the
heavy metals and pesticides—like DDT—which once caused the eagles’ demise.


“Birds that kind of send up a red flag to us are adult birds that are in poor condition and
you don’t see a reason why they could be in poor condition. Those are the ones that we
especially look at for pesticide analysis because there are still the organochlorines out
there. The DDTs are still picked up by eagles or still contained in eagles. Those
pesticides can cause real problems for them and actually kill them.”


Cooley sends tissue samples to another state lab for analysis. But the testing is
expensive. And with the eagle on the way to recovery, it’s not as urgent. Right now, he
says all the samples he sends are being archived—shelved basically. That means the
testing won’t be done until the money is available.


“I never like archiving anything if I can help it. You’re probably not missing anything
but that kind of data is always nice to have if you can get it right away and look at it right
away.”


The question is, if it’s hard to get funding for monitoring and testing now—while the bird
is still on the Endangered Species List—what happens when it’s taken off the list? The
reality, say state and federal wildlife experts, is that budget priorities change as a species
recovers. Ray Rustem heads Michigan’s non-game wildlife program.


“There’s not enough money for every species. So you try to take a species to a level
where you feel comfortable with and you take money and apply it to another species to
try to recover.”


The federal Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor
what it terms a delisted species for five years. After that, responsibility largely shifts to
the states. That concerns groups like the National Wildlife Federation. Attorney John
Kostyak questions whether states can really afford to protect fragile species and their
habitat over the long term.


“That’s going to be an issue with any delisting. A tough question that we’re going to
always be asking is: all right assume you go forward with delisting—how are you going
to be sure the species doesn’t turn right around and go back toward extinction again?”


With some species, that means habitat management. With others, like the recovering
gray wolf, it means public education—teaching people not to kill them. With the eagle, it
means ensuring that the birds are not threatened by the pesticides, heavy metals and
newer chemicals that contaminate the fish the eagles eat. Because of the bird’s
importance as an indicator species, Fish and Wildlife biologists are hopeful banding and
testing programs will continue after delisting. But it will likely mean finding new ways
to pay for them.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sally Eisele.

Related Links

Essay: Tuning in to Urban Frogs

  • Ed Herrmann tries to hear some frogs through the traffic near the Rouge River. (Photo by Ed Herrmann)

Each Spring, thousands of people spend their evenings listening to frogs and toads. It’s not just for fun. They’re helping assess the water quality of rivers and wetlands around the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Herrmann joined the search for amphibians, and has this essay:

Transcript

Each Spring, thousands of people spend their evenings listening to frogs and toads. It’s
not just for fun. They’re helping assess the water quality of rivers and wetlands around
the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Herrmann joined the search for
amphibians, and has this essay:


I’ve always enjoyed being outside and listening to nature. Recording nature sounds is a
hobby of mine. So when I saw an ad asking for people to listen for frogs and toads, I
thought, “All right. Beats watching campaign commercials.”


I called up Friends of the Rouge…(that’s a local group dedicated to helping out the Rouge
River watershed) and a few days later I got a package in the mail. It was full of maps and
information, and had a CD with the songs of the local frogs and toads. I studied my area,
and found some good looking wet spots where I thought they might live.


I memorized the sound of the Wood Frog (sound), Chorus Frog (sound), Spring Peeper
(sound), and American Toad. Then, on the first night when the temperature and wind
conditions were just right, I headed out to hear some frogs.


(sound of traffic roaring by)


I don’t know what I was thinking. This is suburban Detroit, not exactly a wildlife refuge.
In fact, the only animal I see is a rabbit dodging traffic. And the only thing I hear is…
(more traffic sound)


The Rouge River flows into the Detroit River and then Lake Erie. It used to be one of the
dirtiest rivers around, mainly from all the industry down by the mouth. That problem is
more or less under control but now there’s a larger one.


If you look at a map from the 1970s, you see miles of wetlands, small farms and
orchards. Today you see nonstop subdivisions and shopping malls. It might seem like
progress to you, but for the river, the constant barrage of fertilizers, pesticides, soap and
other chemicals that everybody uses to keep their suburbs looking pretty is a lot worse
than an occasional dose of battery acid from a factory. Also having acres of concrete
instead of wetlands means there’s nothing to soak up and filter the water, which means
after a big rain, it floods. It’s obvious this river needs some help.


(sound of river)


In 1998, volunteers began surveying the frogs and toads in the Rouge watershed. These
creatures were chosen because they sing, so they’re easy to track. The reason they’re
good indicators is that, like other amphibians, they absorb water through their skin. That
means they get poisoned by everything that we in the civilized world pour into the water.
Plus, their eggs hatch in water and their larvae (the tadpoles) live in water. It’s pretty
simple: if the water is good, there’s plenty of frogs and toads. If not, they disappear.


So, night after night, I’m out there listening. Listening in the dark. Listening hard.


Not a peep.


I’m beginning to think that the price of all these well-manicured lawns is a silent spring.
Then finally one night, (sound of American toads) the good old American toad! All
right, it is the most common species around, but at least it’s a start.


(sound of chorus frogs and green frogs)


A few weeks later, I join a group at a “mitigated” wetland. That means that when a
developer decided that a real wetland would be the perfect place to build condos and a
golf course, the government said, “Sure, go ahead. Drain it. Just be sure to dig a hole
over here and fill it with water.” Now, five years later, some frogs have moved in and
seem to be fine.


But they still have a little problem…


(jet roars overhead, followed by a few green frogs)


Ah, location, location. This new wetland is right
next to the airport.


Now, the reason these frogs sing is to attract a mate. So if nobody hears them, there are
not going to be any tadpoles to make next year’s frogs. In order to survive, they need not
only to sing, but to be heard.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ed Herrmann.


(frogs fade out)

Related Links

NEW JET ENGINES EMIT MORE NOx

Although commercial airlines have been replacing their fleets with jets that are quieter and more fuel efficient, the engines actually emit more of certain pollutants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:

Transcript

Although commercial airlines have been replacing their fleets with jets that are quieter and more
fuel efficient, the engines actually emit more of certain pollutants. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:


The federal government’s watchdog agency, the General Accounting Office, issued a report that
finds many airports have worked to reduce air pollution. Some have converted airport ground
vehicles to cleaner burning fuels. Newer jet engines emit less carbon monoxide and
hydrocarbons. But, they produce higher amounts of nitrogen oxides than engines on the older
models. As much as 40-percent more during landings and take offs. Those emissions contribute
to ozone pollution. That’s helping to keep more than half of the nation’s major airports in
violation of the federal ozone standards.


The General Accounting Office noted there are technologies available to limit nitrogen oxides
emissions from some of the newer aircraft models. Many government officials indicate that will
likely have to be the next step if ozone pollution around the airports is to be reduced.


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

Tightening Security on the Great Lakes

Since September 11th, the U.S. government has been closing security gaps in aviation. But maritime officials warn that security on our Great Lakes is even less certain. Recently the U.S. Coast Guard held an international conference in Cleveland on Great Lakes security. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:

Transcript

Since September 11, the U.S. government has been closing security gaps in aviation. But maritime officials warn that security on our Great Lakes is even less certain. Recently the U.S. Coast Guard held an international conference in Cleveland on Great Lakes security. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:

On September 11, about 55 commercial U.S. and foreign freighters were cruising the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Even as the nation’s airports were being closed, U.S. Coast Guard officials were ordered to stop and search those vessels. It took two days for the search to be completed. Commander James Hull heads the Coast Guard’s 9th District, which oversees shipping in the Great Lakes region. He says that action alerted the Guard to a serious problem.

“Didn’t know exactly where all those ships were. AIS system solves that.”

AIS is a new communications protocol now being developed by the International Maritime Organization. Using a global positioning system, ships equipped with AIS will be able to transmit their exact location – and identity – to other vessels and maritime authorities. But so far, the system hasn’t been widely adopted. And that’s just the first security risk the Coast Guard discovered.

“We had people asking how you drive the ships and how you get training?”

As the weeks went by, the list of vulnerable areas grew. Nuclear power plants located along the lakeshore, ports and harbors, bridges, tunnels, and locks. Ships carrying hazardous cargo and those from countries with known terrorist links. And then there are the thousands of cargo containers shipped daily from ports around the world.

“Ambi here?”

27-hundred reservists were called up to assist the Coast Guard in patrolling and monitoring sensitive areas. The federal government allocated more than 220-million dollars in additional funds. But four months after the terrorist attacks, more than 50-percent of the Coast Guard’s efforts are still being spent on security. The Guard’s original mission – to guide maritime operations, assist in search and rescue, and help clean up environmental problems – has been largely overshadowed. Nonetheless oversight of commercial shipping is part of the Coast Guard’s job. Goods shipped on the Great Lakes are worth more than 742-billion dollars a year to the U.S. economy. Most of those goods and raw materials enter or leave the Great Lakes in bulk shipments and in containers that are off-loaded directly from ships. Dr. Steven Flynn is a former Coast Guard Commander and a Senior Fellow with the National Security Studies Program at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. He says a disruption to Great Lakes shipping could have wide-reaching consequences for the entire U.S.

“And so if we have another incident…we’re still extremely vulnerable, we’re still not out of the woods on this here – that if it happens in those sectors, my fear is not just the consequence of seeing another sight like I saw on September 16 after the attack, but also is the disruption that would come from happening within those sectors.”

Those disruptions could also severely hamper the Canadian economy, which ships much of its grain and steel through the Great Lakes. As the U.S.’s largest trading partner and nearest neighbor, Canada already shares jurisdiction over Great Lakes resources through the International Joint Commission. Now government officials on both sides of the border say it’s more important than ever to work together.

(1B 258 Streeter Integrated border enforcement)

John Adams is the Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner. He says the U.S. and Canada have recently signed a 30-point plan to jointly improve security on the Great Lakes, while allowing trade to flourish. Both governments have already instituted new 96-hour arrival notification requirements for vessels coming into North American ports. And they’ve extended the international maritime borders from 3-miles to twelve. But there are plenty of other new security plans yet to be adopted, ranging from identity cards and background checks to a point-of-origin system for clearing container cargo. And both countries will be sending representatives to the International Maritime Organization conference in London, where organizers hope to move ahead with new standardized strategies to keep global trade secure. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Schaefer.