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Former Congresswoman Betty Sutton stresses importance of both economy and environment in new seaway post

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MASSENA - Former Congresswoman Betty S. Sutton (D) is only in her first week on the job as the new administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, and she is spending time this week in Massena, a place she calls the “heart of the seaway.”

She describes the St. Lawrence Seaway as “a gem for our nation”and “a model agency with a tremendous record.”

Over the past two days, Ms. Sutton has toured the seaway’s two American locks (Eisenhower and Snell) on the St. Lawrence River and, the vessel traffic control room and met with various employees working in Massena.

Ms. Sutton was appointed administrator of the SLSDC on July 24 by President Barack Obama and is filling a post that had been left open for more than a year. The U.S. Seaway Development Corporation, along with its Canadian counterpart, St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, oversee the operation and maintenance of the St. Lawrence Seaway system, which ranges from Montreal to Lake Erie.

She feels that her upbringing and experiences in Ohio, a state that is on the Great Lakes, will be beneficial in her new role.

“Having come from Ohio, I certainly understand the importance of marine commerce and the importance of our water systems and Great Lakes in general, how important they are and how much they touch people’s lives. The St. Lawrence-Great Lakes Seaway System touches so many Americans, some of whom don’t even know that they are affected by it,” Ms. Sutton said.

“But when you look at what it does and the opportunity it provides to the heart land of North America, both on the U.S. side and the Canadian side, it has so many selling points and frankly we’re going to work to increase the competitiveness and the capacity. We have a lot of traffic coming through but we can do more because the more we do there, the more economic gain that we have not only regionally, but certainly regionally which is very important right here, but beyond. And it’s good for this area and it’s good for our country and also for Canada,” she said.

One of the challenges facing Ms. Sutton will be balancing the economic interests of the shippers, industries and ports with the environmental impact of those decisions on the river and lakes. On the surface, shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway brings in billions of dollars for the Great Lakes economy, both in the U.S. and Canada. However, wildlife, fish, plants, and water quality in the largest surface fresh water system in the world have been negatively impacted in the past by ships bringing invasive species into the region.

“I think it’s critical that we accomplish both (economical and environmental needs.) I am a person who rejects the idea that it’s either one or the other. We often hear, ‘You’re either for jobs or you’re for the environment.’ It has to be jobs and the environment,” Ms. Sutton said. “I think again, coming from the Great Lakes area, I’m very conscious of that.

“We have to be ever vigilant dealing with invasive species, making sure that we’re going after it wholeheartedly and consistently, to accomplish the prevention of invasive species to the extent that is humanly possible. And I’m glad that we’ve done a better job of that and certainly there’s no confirmed invasive species having come in since 2006, but there’s no doubt that it has been a problem in the past and we want to keep it there. We want to keep it in the past. So I don’t see a conflict frankly. We have a mandate and a mission to keep the Seaway moving safe and efficiently, but we also have a responsibility to do that in an environmentally sound way,” she said.

Ms. Sutton cited her time in Congress and specifically the “Cash for Clunkers” program as a good example of how she has balanced the two aspects previously in her career.

Although still in her first week of a term that has recently been changed from seven years to instead align with the president’s tenure, Ms. Sutton has some clear goals in mind for her tenure.

“We want to continue to fulfill our mission of safe, efficient avenue of travel for marine shipping, but we also want to increase the use of the seaway to gain additional commerce. We want to move ahead in a sustainable way, going to the question of the environment. We are making strides in that regard and when you think about shipping, marine shipping, when you’re shipping by the seaway it means that it’s not necessarily going by rail. It’s not going by trucks. (It takes) some 870 trucks to move what you can move on the seaway with one vessel,” Ms. Sutton said. “So it is an environmentally friendly mode of shipping. So, making people more conscious and aware of the good work and the great opportunity that the seaway offers, that is definitely a priority.”

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