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Great Lakes Article:

New 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 the world.

"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 water diversion.

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," he said.

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 issues.

"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 Lakes.

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."

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