Environmentalists hail surprising
In tough national climate, local efforts heating up
By Brendan O'Shaughnessy
INDIANAPOLIS -- The nation's hot-button green issue may
be drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but
area environmentalists have been achieving surprising
success in a tough climate by focusing on the local level.
Tom Anderson, director of Save the Dunes, said the Michigan
City group has followed a two-pronged strategy of defense
on national issues and offense on regional issues.
"We've had administrations unfriendly to the environment
before," Anderson said. "Sometimes, holding
your own is progress. But opportunities in the Great Lakes
may be just mushrooming."
Two bills working their way through Congress could provide
funds "on a scale never anticipated," Anderson
said. The House version would provide $4 billion over
five years, and the Senate version $6 billion over 10
years, for a Great Lakes fund enabling comprehensive management
of the resource.
Some environmentalists give the effort a chance to succeed
due to its bipartisan support and timing in an election
year affecting key battleground states. But even if the
money doesn't materialize after the budget hawks search
for cuts, Anderson and nationally known Gary environmentalist
Lee Botts said Great Lakes activism is buzzing.
"Indiana is conspicuous for being out of the mainstream,"
Botts said. "In other states, it's like they've been
sleeping and suddenly come awake."
Despite a recent rollback on air emission regulations
and a lost congressional vote on global warming, eco-activists
pointed to the following local and regional successes:
* The state completed its first Aquatic Nuisance Species
plan and presented the Gov. Kernan-signed document to
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday.
If approved, it would bring Indiana up to speed with
neighboring states on managing the $100 billion-per-year
problem that threatens native plants and animals, and
make the state eligible for $100,000 in federal funding.
* Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., presented a plan last
week to reclaim 75 percent of the Indiana lakeshore for
public access. His 20-year-old Marquette Greenway Plan
would replace fading industrial facilities with a strip
of green similar to Chicago's. The once pie-in-the-sky
vision has gained support from five key mayors in the
* The Governor's Conference on the Environment last week
hailed seven local groups for their work last year. Two
developers, Wagner Homes and Floramo Partners, and the
Porter County Plan Commission received land use awards.
The city of Valparaiso was honored for a recycling program
that diverted nearly 12 million tons of material from
landfills. The Lubeznik Center for the Arts and LaPorte
County waste district received awards for their creative
children's recycling programs. The Medaryville Correctional
Facility was honored for efforts to restore a wildlife
habitat on its grounds.
* A recent State of the Environment report compiled Department
of Environmental Management data for a snapshot of yearly
progress, including a 71 percent decrease in toxic chemicals
and carcinogens in Northwest Indiana in 2001.
* The Lake Michigan Coastal Program will make available
for the first time $1 million for grants in Northwest
Indiana areas within the watershed. The program held a
workshop last week to explain what groups are eligible
for funds for projects such as wetlands, river and lake
restoration, conservation buffers and stormwater management.
* A recent Indiana Supreme Court ruling gave the Department
of Environmental Management authority to regulate isolated
wetlands that corporations and developers have been interested
in. In a state that has lost five million acres of its
original wetlands, environmentalists called this a victory
for wetland benefits such as wildlife habitat and flood
About 40 percent of Lake County wetlands are classified
as isolated, meaning they do not connect to a river or
* State lawmakers from Great Lakes states formed a caucus
to coordinate state policies for the chain that is the
world's largest source of fresh water, all of which cross
state and national borders. Sen. Sue Landske, R-Cedar
Lake, said she joined, because states can't make progress
if they undertake disjointed efforts.
* The Great Lakes Cities Initiative, launched by Chicago
Mayor Richard Daley, aims to make city mayors more involved
in a decision-making process often reserved for state
and national politicians.
Gary Mayor Scott King is one of 10 involved in a steering
committee for the cities' effort.
"Given whatever is happening in Washington, are
cities going it on their own to do what they can?"
asked David Ullrich, the initiative's director. "The
answer is definitely yes."