Great Lakes chief uses lessons learned on Lake St. Clair
The Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. -- Ken DeBeaussaert need only take a short
walk from his Macomb County home to see a mirror image
of the problems plaguing the Great Lakes.
There, the new director of the state Office of the Great
Lakes can get a view of Lake St. Clair, which connects
two of the big lakes via the Clinton and Detroit rivers.
Lake St. Clair isn't a Great Lake, but it is a test tube
for many of the same ills that afflict lakes Ontario,
Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior. It sometimes is home
to untreated sewage, industrial pollution, chunks of rotting
seaweed, murky waters, closed beaches and exotic species
that have hitchiked on freighters from other parts of
"Lake St. Clair is a microcosm of the Great Lakes
system in terms of some of the problems and the complexity
of dealing with them and the various units of government
that are involved," said DeBeaussaert.
No stranger to the Great Lakes, the 49-year-old DeBeaussaert
(pronounced da-BOE'-zart) is a lifelong resident of Macomb
County. A state lawmaker since 1978, he left the state
Senate after last year because of term limits. In April,
he was appointed director of the Great Lakes office by
fellow Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
The appointment has been widely praised, and the Republican-run
state Senate didn't challenge it.
The Office of the Great Lakes is the state's lead agency
in dealing with other Great Lakes states and Canada, in
attempts to reach agreement on region-wide policies on
water management, protection, combatting pollution and
invasive species and taking a unified position in proposed
According to DeBeaussaert, reaching agreement with eight
other governors and two premiers -- often with differing
personalities and agendas of their own -- is as complex
as the scientific problems facing the lakes themselves.
But he said it is crucial to adopt a system-wide strategy
to safeguard the lakes.
"It is the only spot in state government that focuses
like a laser on the Great Lakes. Ken DeBeaussaert has
the governor's respect," said Dave Dempsey, policy
adviser for the Michigan Environmental Council, a coalition
of environmental groups. The office "has to have
a direct link to the governor, or it won't be effective,"
Michigan, the only state which is surrounded by the Great
Lakes on three sides, has big environmental, economic
and emotional ties to the water -- and that makes DeBeaussaert's
job crucial, said Bill Rustem, vice president of Public
Sector Consultants of Lansing and environmental aide to
former Gov. William Milliken.
"The Great Lakes define us," Rustem said.
And a fellow Great Lakes leader -- whom DeBeaussaert
served with in the legislature for a few years -- said
DeBeaussaert is a good choice to lead negotiations with
the federal government, other states and Canada over lakes
"He knows his way around the Great Lakes and he
knows how to get things done," said Michael Donahue,
president and CEO of the Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission,
which promotes public policies to safeguard the lakes.
Donahue said the top issues confronting DeBeaussaert
are the threat of invasive species, like the zebra mussel
and Asian carp; water management, including water withdrawal
and water diversion to other states or communities along
the Great Lakes; toxic "hot spots" of pollution;
and trying to get Congress to chip in to protect the Great
A related issue is the annex, a sweeping amendment to
the Great Lakes Charter, the legally binding pact among
Great Lakes states that attempts to preserve and protect
the vast inland seas. Negotiations on the annex, begun
in 2001, aim at a final system-wide agreement by 2004.
The sagging economy and slumping state revenues hamper
officials' ability to tackle Great Lakes issues. But Donahue
said the problems are inextricably linked.
"The governors in the Great Lakes states have budgetary
concerns right now," he said. "But we can't
have a good economy without a clean environment, and you
can't afford a clean environment without a good economy."
DeBeaussaert understands the importance of the Great
Lakes to so many people. He cites his experience on a
state Senate Great Lakes Conservation Task Force, which
last year recommended steps to protect the lakes.
"It didn't matter what part of the state you went
to, what lake you were near. They were passionate about
the need for the state to come together to protect our
Great Lakes and our waters."