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Great Lakes Article:

Lake Erie initiative planned
Input sought on idea to protect water by curbing sprawl
By Tom Henry
Toledo Blade

Suburbia's impact on water quality can be immense: When land gets paved over, there's less grass or soil to filter out pollutants such as motor oil drippings and farm fertilizers that run off the land and head downstream after each rain.

It's one of the drawbacks of urban sprawl.

Government planners don't have much power to stop sprawl. But through an incentive-laden program called the balanced growth initiative, officials feel they now can be creative in their efforts to mitigate the effects on Lake Erie.

Compiled by a 30-member task force from many walks of life, the initiative has a nonbinding theme they feel is nonthreatening to developers.

It doesn't attempt to undo past mistakes. It doesn't propose new laws.

Rather, it tries to get everyone to recognize the benefits of managing future growth in a more eco-friendly way, officials said.

"Nobody's evil. Nobody's the bad person. It's a quality-of-life issue," John Hull, task force chairman, said.

Mr. Hull, president of Hull & Associates, Inc., a Toledo-based consulting firm, said it's essential to bring all parties together.

"This is not a bleeding-heart Sierra Club perspective. This is an important component to our quality of life," he said.

Lake Erie is one of the world's largest bodies of fresh water. Together, it and the other Great Lakes hold a fifth of the planet's fresh surface water. Those lakes are expected to become even more coveted as water shortages become more acute throughout the world later this century because of global warming and the Earth's growing population.

"Lake Erie is Ohio's greatest natural resource and provides tremendous natural and economic benefits to all Ohioans. It is truly a resource of global significance," according to the two-volume Balanced Growth Initiative draft, now up for public review.

Task force member Ed Hammett said he likes the initiative because it takes a bottom-up approach. Despite oodles of after-the-fact pollution research, he acknowledged that precious little has been done to unify planners with a more forward-thinking way to see the Lake Erie basin in a big picture.

"This kind of fills a gap that's not being addressed at this point," Mr. Hammett, chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's northwest district office in Bowling Green, said. "Many reports deal with existing problems. This is more forward-looking."

The task force that wrote the proposed initiative was formed by the Toledo-based Ohio Lake Erie Office, an arm of the governor's office. Developers, environmentalists, businessmen, scientists, college professors, and government officials are among those represented.

A number of financial incentives eventually could be offered, with the help of various agencies.

Officials were admittedly thin on examples. But they said one of the biggest incentives could be writing rules so that projects eyed for so-called priority development areas score the highest for grant money.

Land designated as priority conservation areas, on the other hand, would score lowest because it would be more ecologically-sensitive.

Those kind of planning mechanisms don't make it impossible to develop green land, but veer developers to other areas through incentives.

The initiative also could ultimately make life simpler for developers by showing them where common principles lie before they invest too much time and money in their projects, officials said.

"It's as much of an education process as anything else - trying to get people to learn there are consequences in terms of where to put things and not to put things," David Goss, senior director of transportation and infrastructure for the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, said.

The association is the nation's second-largest chamber of commerce behind Detroit's.

In March, the initiative is expected to be presented to the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, a panel of state agency department heads, for approval.

Comments are now being taken on two draft documents, which are to be discussed at public forums on Jan. 28 in Bay Village, Ohio, west of Cleveland, as well as the Ohio Lake Erie Office in downtown Toledo on Feb. 3. Both meetings start at 7 p.m.

The Bay Village meeting will be at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, 28728 Wolf Rd. The Ohio Lake Erie Office is at 1 Maritime Plaza. That office reports to the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.

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