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A Seaway for the 21st Century

Fifty years ago, in June of 1959, the Buffalo Courier Express heralded the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway as a feat of engineering, completed in only four years, and ready to bring Buffalo to the world stage as an international port. In the rapidly modernizing post-war world, Seaway’s proponents felt that building a seaway to give deep draft international vessels access to the heartland was exactly what Buffalo, the Great Lakes, and America needed.  In the past five decades reality has painted a different picture. The Seaway did not attract the wave of international vessels as anticipated and Buffalo’s role as the bustling gateway between the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal was erased.  Ocean-vessels also transported a scourge of invasive species into the Great Lakes, facilitating one of the worst environmental disasters to hit North America.

In preparation for the 50th anniversary and in light of the reality of shipping in this region, Great Lakes United and over 50 other groups released their vision for a sustainable shipping on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Shipping has the chance to become the most sustainable form of commercial transportation in the region, but not with a business-as-usual approach. Specifically, Great Lakes United and its partners made several recommendations that would help shipping adapt to an era where economic develop must happen in concert with environmental protection and restoration:

1. Ships must not introduce or spread aquatic invasive species.

2. Climate change is a real threat, and proactive steps must be taken to meet this challenge head on.

3. Unnecessary and costly system expansion proposals must be abandoned.

4. Air emissions should be cleaned up for shipping to truly be the cleanest mode of transportation in regards to air pollution.

5. Work towards the elimination of all pollutants into the Great Lakes.

6. Minimize ice-breaking, especially in sensitive areas.

7. Citizen engagement and industry transparency should become the norm in Seaway governance.

The reality of communities, economies, and ecosystems in Buffalo and the entire Great Lakes region is one of the devastating effects of invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels, mercury contaminated fish, and continued shoreline erosion in many areas. These challenges impact the human and nonhuman residents of our region. Many challenges like these have increased since the Seaway’s opening and the introduction modern, ocean-going vessels. Shipping in the Great Lakes, however, has a long and cherished history. Great Lakes United believes the shipping industry can continue to be an important part of our regional economy and culture, but more than that a leading example for sustainable transportation in the 21st century.

Citizens and organizations are invited to endorse these principles. For more information and to add your voice visit

*Ships likes the Herbert C. Jackson travel throughout the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

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