Great Lakes gathering draws wave of
By Kyla King
The Grand Rapids Press
Published September 9, 2005
WEST MICHIGAN -- After three decades of lobbying to improve
the water quality of the Great Lakes, Peter Wege is making
But even as he looked out Thursday at an unprecedented
gathering of national and statewide government and environmental
leaders assembled to tackle the issue, he was quick to
let them know he is not satisfied.
"They say it's going to take 20 years (to clean
up the lakes)," said Wege, a local philanthropist
and former Steelcase Inc. executive. "I'm 85. I want
it done by the time I'm 90. All those in favor, hold up
Wege's comments drew chuckles from the crowd of leaders
gathered Thursday at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown
Grand Rapids. They were brought together in part through
Wege's efforts for the first "Great Lakes Restoration"
It's the first of five planned conferences in the eight
states and two Canadian provinces that surround the five
Great Lakes. The goal is to create a timeline modeled
after an effort in Florida that succeeded in winning billions
in state and federal aid to restore the Everglades.
In response to increased attention to the issue from
the White House and Congress, Wege formed the "Healing
Our Waters" coalition last year.
The group drew up an agenda for the federal government
that focused on improving water quality, ridding the lakes
of invasive species and cleaning up toxic sediment.
Thursday's conference comes after the July release of
a $20 billion fast-tracked plan established by President
U.S. Environmental Protection Administrator Steven Johnson
was scheduled to attend until he was called away by Hurricane
Wege said he was encouraged to see federal interest in
"It's a good sign they're reacting," said Wege,
who in the past has expressed frustration with the current
administration's environmental commitments. "Hopefully,
it's a new light shinning."
Gov. Jennifer Granholm attended the conference and vented
her frustration with state legislators, whom she said
have stalled her efforts to pass a law to regulate Great
Lakes water withdrawal.
"How much longer do we have to wait in order to
get a statute that protects the greatest resource we have?"
Granholm asked. "It's a shameful thing that Michigan
is the only state in the Great Lakes basin that does not
have a water-protecting statute."
Granholm urged attendees to elect federal and state legislators
who pledge to protect the lakes.
"Water is not a Democratic or Republican issue,"
she said. "You're going to need some action by the
federal government or the government of your state in
order to put feet to your prayers."
State Sen. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, who attended
Thursday's conference, said her interest in the issue
grew after she helped establish legislation regulating
the discharge of ballast water into the lakes. She now
chairs a legislative caucus working to combine the efforts
of all eight states and both Canadian provinces.
"We could be studying beach closings over here on
the shores of Lake Michigan and they are over on the other
side in Milwaukee doing the same thing," Birkholz
said. "What we're trying to do is get researchers
coordinating their information and we could all benefit."