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Great Lakes Article:

Environmentalists hail surprising success
In tough national climate, local efforts heating up
By Brendan O'Shaughnessy
NWI Times

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 region.

* 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 control.

About 40 percent of Lake County wetlands are classified as isolated, meaning they do not connect to a river or lake system.

* 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."

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