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Great Lakes Article:

Funding for Great Lakes cleanup not likely to survive Congress
By Hugh McDiarmid Jr.
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Published February 6th, 2005


DETROIT - (KRT) - The health of sediment in Great Lakes harbors and connecting rivers - given a failing grade in a recent federal biological report card - would get $50 million in cleanup money next year under the president's proposed budget being unveiled Monday.

But whether funding for the Great Lakes Legacy Act survives intact amid the hand-to-hand combat of congressional budget infighting is doubtful. Last year's $45 million proposal was halved after Congress got through with it. The previous year, $15 million was cut to $10 million.

So although the five-year Legacy Act authorized $270 million, only $82.5 million will have been approved in its first three years even if a Pollyanna scenario pans out and the proposal is untouched.

"It's good news that it's $50 million more than is authorized now, but it's below the level the Legacy Act should be funded at, and startlingly smaller than the total needs for the Great Lakes," said U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat.

It's still a "substantial increase" from previous years, said Ben Grumble, assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water. Grumble announced the $50 million proposal Friday .

Added to previous outlays, the money would fully fund the federal shares of 14 projects targeted for the first phase of cleanup.

The Legacy Act is designed to clean the harbors, bays and tributaries that were treated as open sewers and toxic dumps throughout much of the 20th century. The indifference left a legacy of dangerous gunk that accumulated up to dozens of feet deep on the bottom. The quagmire makes the lakebeds unfit for fish spawning, mollusks, aquatic plants, insect larvae and other tiny critters at the base of the food chain.

Even intact, the $50 million is a fraction of the up to $4 billion that is needed to clean up the 31 Great Lakes areas identified by federal officials as the most polluted.

Still, it's one more step on a 100-mile journey, said Mike Donahue , president of the Great Lakes Commission, a binational research and advocacy agency that includes all eight Great Lakes states: "When you've had a longstanding drought, even one drop of rain is welcome," he said.

But scrapping for dollars every year is no way to fund a stable program, environmentalists argue.

"We need to establish a stable funding mechanism, like a Superfund," said James Clift, policy adviser for the Michigan Environmental Council. He said much of the Legacy Act money has been robbed from other areas, like Superfund and Clean Water Act programs. The result is no net gain for cleanup funding. "They act like it's new money, but it's really money he's (Bush) cut from elsewhere over his tenure," Clift said.

There's little debate about the toxicity of the Legacy Act's target, though.

Underwater sediment is the most vexing problem for the Great Lakes coastline, according to a report released last month by a coalition of federal and state agencies.

The National Coastal Condition Reports gave the lakes high scores - 4's and 5's on a scale from 1 to 5 - for dissolved oxygen levels, water clarity, and the quality of the region's drinking water. Low scores, 2's, were given for the health of tiny organisms that live in the sediment, water quality and the condition of coastal wetlands.

But only lakes sediment got the worst possible grade, a lowly 1. The score was unimproved from the agencies' first report issued four years earlier.

"It got a poor grade based on the sediments in harbors and in areas along the coastline," said Paul Bertram , an environmental scientist in the EPA's Great Lakes National Program office, which helped produce the report.

Some 10 to 30 million cubic yards of sediment needs removal, and less than 10 percent has been dealt with so far, the report said. Until more progress is made, it will continue to be the leading cause of fish consumption advisories and cripple recreational and economic activity, the report concluded.

For more information on the Great Lakes Legacy Act, go to www.epa.gov/glnpo/sediment/legacy/.

To see the Great Lakes Coastal Condition Report, go to www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/nccr/2005/ and download the Great Lakes chapter.

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