Meet the new St. Lawrence Seaway Administrator
The St. Lawrence Seaway has both an oversized and understated presence in the North Country.
Oversized because the freighters from the Atlantic Ocean that squeeze through the locks in Massena and the Thousand Islands by Alexandria Bay and Clayton are a marvel to behold.
Understated because the Seaway, while not the economic driver that was promised when it was built in the 1950s, does employ 120 people in Massena. There’s also a port in Ogdensburg.
And the Seaway has had a huge, mostly negative effect on the environment of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, costing billions of dollars in damage from invasive species like zebra mussels and the round goby that hitchhiked in the ballast of Seaway freighters.
So the person who runs it matters. As of last November, that’s Adam Tindall-Schlicht, who was appointed by President Joe Biden. At 39, Tindall-Schlicht becomes the youngest, and the first openly gay, Administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, which oversees operations of the U.S. side of the system of locks and channels that connect the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.
Tindall-Schlicht told David Sommerstein he most recently directed the Port of Milwaukee. Before that, he worked at the Seaway itself for almost a decade, doing all kinds of jobs. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
ADAM TINDALL-SCHLICHT: Management analyst, IT specialist, cybersecurity specialist, personnel security officer, emergency c coordinator. During that time of employment with the Seaway, from about 2010 to 2018, I had the good occasion to spend several weeks per year working with our colleagues here in the North Country. The weekends and holidays that I've spent professionally and personally in Massena have endeared me to this community. So it really was a rare and special privilege in 2022 when President Biden asked me to return to Massena, return to DC, as Seaway Administrator. I couldn't resist.
DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: One of the big questions we have locally and that's been a big controversy over a few decades is the potential of expansion, having bigger locks, bigger channels, and also having year-round navigation. That obviously would make a smoother system for shippers but would cause a lot of other problems. Those had previously been off the table most recently with the last couple of administrators. Is that something that you would put back on the table? What's the status of this?
TINDALL-SCHLICHT: Not at this time. I'll address both pieces separately.
In terms of year-round navigation, we do not anticipate that to occur certainly not while I'm Administrator. The winter maintenance period is critical for us to reinvest and complete capital projects on the locks themselves. So in addition to not operating because of winter weather, it's become a useful time for us to do repairs, modernization improvements, and other upgrades to the locks. We'll continue to leverage that winter season for that work.
In terms of changing the size of the locks, I do not anticipate that to be taking place in our lifetime, either. I look at the Soo Locks project that's taking place near Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, as administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers. That lock modernization project is costing multiple billions of dollars. Multiply that by two US locks, Snell and Eisenhower, here. We just don't anticipate that taking place from a financial perspective.
SOMMERSTEIN: Another concern that people have across the Great Lakes and certainly in the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario is invasive species. What's your position on freighters, international freighters in particular, having better ballast water technology to kill organisms that could come in, that could be the next invasive species?
TINDALL-SCHLICHT: The intervention that the US and Canadian Seaway Corporations led almost 15 years ago, I would submit has been one of the most fruitful and successful ballast water management regimes that have taken place.
As a result of the treatment plus flushing requirements that have been implemented over the last 15 years, there has been no new introduction of aquatic nuisance or invasive species through the locks of the Seaway via ballast water. My intention as administrator is to maintain that 100% compliance.
SOMMERSTEIN: Would you support additional technologies to clean ballast water, as there are some bills in Congress about?
TINDALL-SCHLICHT: The United States Congress, the US Coast Guard, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and others are continually looking at the rules and regulations regarding ballast water, not just here for the Great Lakes, but for all US territorial waters, as well as certainly the International Maritime Organization in London, the Canadian government. The key is regulatory harmonization. The key is 100% compliance. The key is making sure that regulation is tied to science, is tied to practice.
SOMMERSTEIN: I read that you're the first openly gay administrator and the first openly gay port director when you were in Milwaukee.
TINDALL-SCHLICHT: I've had a very blessed career. So yes, I am both the youngest administrator and the first openly gay administrator in the history of the Seaway. I'm 39 years old. When I was director of Port Milwaukee, again, my home port from 2018 until 2022, similarly, I was the only openly gay port director on the Great Lakes and again the youngest port director on the Great Lakes at the time.
For me, I talk openly about my identity as a queer person, especially with pride month mere days away, because I believe that the Great Lakes maritime industry, that communities like Massena, that communities like Milwaukee, that industries, like shipping, are creating spaces for new and exciting voices that 30, 40, 50 years ago might not have had a seat at that table.
I'm living proof that Great Lakes shipping and the Seaway itself is a community where all people can come to work, can feel respected, can feel that they're making a contribution. You can go from being a management analyst and an IT specialist to Administrator of the Seaway in just over 10 years. It's been such a nurturing and wonderful experience to be in this field, especially as a gay man.