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PORTAGE | The leader of a Great Lakes ports industry group warned Indiana port officials Thursday that regulations adopted two years ago by a New York state environmental agency could have a crippling effect on Lake Michigan shipping.

Steven Fisher, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Great Lakes Ports Association, said concern about invasive species prompted the rule. But the result was a policy he said the shipping industry cannot comply with and will disrupt most shipping to Burns Harbor.

In order to balance and provide stability for vessels, ballast tanks are either filled with water from surroundings or emptied. The concern is that invasive species that could be carried in ballast tank water could be released in a different location, and as a result, affect the ecosystem in that area.

Fisher said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation adopted ballast water requirements for oceangoing vessels traveling through its jurisdiction that are more stringent than a federal and an internationally accepted standard. Not only is the water treatment requirement more stringent, the technology is supposed to be on vessels starting in 2012, which is four years before the internationally accepted standard.

"We cannot allow one single state to choke off commerce to the interior of the Great Lakes," Fisher said at a Ports of Indiana Commission business meeting at the Portage Yacht Club.

"There is no technology available or known to man that can (be installed) on ships to accomplish that goal."

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Since the shipping industry has suffered multiple defeats challenging the rule in New York state courts, Fisher said the only options left are to press state governors to hear the shipping industry's pleas or challenge the rule in federal court. Fisher said shippers also are worried about the ramifications if they choose to ignore the law.

International vessels from the Atlantic Ocean have to navigate the St. Lawrence Seaway and pass New York to get to Burns Harbor.

Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor Director Peter Laman said with the long lead time needed to coordinate the shipment of cargo, businesses soon may think twice about planning to send products to the Great Lakes if they have to deal with the regulations. He said the impact of this legislation could be as troublesome as warding off efforts to close Chicago-area locks because of concerns that Asian carp could harm the Great Lakes ecosystem.

"Businesses are going to start looking at this ballast water issue and looking at alternatives," Laman said.

Environmental groups and New York's environmental agency said invasive species such as zebra mussels, the round goby and ruffe ended up in inland waterways because of ballast tank discharges and have defended the more stringent requirements.

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