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Great Lakes Article:

Taft oversees session on Great Lakes needs
By Tom Henry
Toledo Blade

PARMA, Ohio - Gov. Bob Taft had a roomful of Ohio researchers and policy-makers playing reporter for four hours yesterday at Cuyahoga Community College, taking notes from the public about Lake Erieís top ecological issues.

There were no speeches or grandstanding. People shook hands and chatted about anything from Asian carp to erosion as if they were visiting environmentally themed information booths at a county fair.

The event had a loosely knit format but a deliberate and underlying purpose, akin to a marketing survey.

Officials said it was another small step in the long process of trying to convince Congress to give the Great Lakes the nationís largest chunk of money for an ecosystem restoration project since a Florida delegation secured $8 billion for the Everglades in 2000.

Two bills are pending in Congress - one calling for $4 billion in the House and one calling for $6 billion in the Senate. Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) and Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) are the principal architects of the Senate version.

Great Lakes officials have vowed to work as a bipartisan political bloc to help this region obtain a multibillion-dollar package, much as other members of Congress have been trying to do for Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and other ecosystems in the wake of Floridaís coup for the Everglades.

Yesterdayís event was Ohioís chance to weigh in on nine restoration priorities outlined by the Great Lakes Commission, an agency in Ann Arbor funded by the eight Great Lakes states to help unify regional policy and lobbying efforts.

"Restoration is not a new concept in the Great Lakes, but itís been piecemeal and sporadic," Dr. Michael J. Donahue, the commissionís president and chief executive officer, said. "Marketing is what itís all about."

Patricia Madigan, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency public information director, said the commission will use comments from each state to help bolster recommendations to Congress from the Chicago-based Council of Great Lakes Governors, which Mr. Taft chairs.

Michigan had its meeting in September. Pennsylvania will have its today in Erie. Other states are to have them soon.

Dr. Donahue said comments solicited at the forums should "validate how insightful governors were with their broad priorities."

Those priorities include efforts to curb diversions and bulk withdrawals of Great Lakes water, protecting human health, curbing runoff, reducing the use of persistent toxic chemicals, cutting off pathways for invasive species, protecting fish and wildlife habitat, cleaning up pollution hot spots, enhancing communication, and developing wiser uses of land.

Getting the publicís help in refining priorities could help show Congress where people want most of the money to be spent, Dr. Donahue said.

Everglades envy again will be a major theme when more than 100 officials from the region meet in Washington next Wednesday for the Great Lakes Commissionís 35th annual Great Lakes Congressional Breakfast and Issues Briefing, Dr. Donahue said.

Several Ohio and Michigan officials are to speak, including Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who chairs the commissionís governing board.

"Itís really time this resource gets the national and international respect it deserves," said David Ullrich, a former U.S. EPA Midwest regional administrator who began work in July as the first director of the new Great Lakes Cities Initiative.

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford helped form that group as a vehicle for unifying the regionís city officials on Great Lakes issues. Its goal is help city officials network, much as Mr. Taftís council aims to help unify Great Lakes governors.

During a Nov. 14 speech at the University of Toledo, Mr. Taft urged President Bush to support the $6 billion Senate bill.

"He told us in getting ready for that speech that he wanted it to be his major policy speech," Ms. Madigan said yesterday.

Mr. Bush has not responded specifically to that request. But U.S. EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt announced Jan. 29 that Mr. Bush has recommended the region get $45 million of the maximum $50 million allowed under the Great Lakes Legacy Act for the 2005 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act is a separate five-year bill that Congress passed two years ago for sediment projects. The region received $10 million of the maximum $50 million that would have been allowed during the first year of that act.

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