CLAYTON, N.Y. (WWTI) — The St. Lawrence Seaway is preparing for its latest seasonal closing date in its 64-year history.
Although the international waterway typically shuts down at the end of December, U.S. and Canadian authorities have agreed to extend this year’s navigation season, according to the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.
Officials said this is due to a strike of unionized Canadian Seaway workers that shut down the Seaway for one week.
Weather permitting, the projected closing date for the Montreal/Lake Ontario section is January 5, 2024, and for the Welland Canal section is January 7, 2024.
However, this has sparked concern among environmentalists along the St. Lawrence River.
“Every time that the closings get pushed later in the season, it increases the risk to the environment, the risk to the river,” Save The River Executive Director John Peach expressed.
Save The River was a key player in stopping winter navigation in the late 1970s. The organization specifically got its start following the infamous “Slick of ’76” incident, which occurred after a vessel carrying oil went aground on the St. Lawrence River.
Peach emphasized that winter navigation is a major environmental threat because of the products on board vessels.
“There’s very little technology or experience in collecting any of the chemicals or the oil that spilled in icing conditions,” Peach explained. “And if if those chemicals or if the oil were to get underneath ice on the shorelines, they could stay there all winter and it could be an even bigger mess in the spring.”
All closing dates are weather permitting. GLS has confirmed that the extended season will not impact ice control booms throughout the Seaway and officials will continue to monitor conditions.
But Peach said an unprecedented accident could put many in danger.
“If there ever was a grounding or a fire on a ship or a shipboard incident, the first responders to that are going to be our local first responders,” Peach added. “And for them to launch a boat in icing conditions is when the shoreline is icy. When the docks are icy, it’s a very risky proposition. They could fall, they could injure themselves. They could go into the water. The consequences could be disastrous.”
All issues that he said span out of the St. Lawrence River into the entire Great Lakes system on an issue Save The River thought was over.
“I thought we were beyond this one, but extenuating circumstances have brought it back,” Peach concluded.
An opening date for next season’s shipping season has not been announced.
GLS said that several factors will be considered to decide next season’s opening date. These include vessel safety, emergency response capability and coordination, weather and environmental conditions, water levels and water management, domestic and international trade forecast models.