activists hope to join forces on Great Lakes cleanup
By Malia Rulon
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- Mud and pollution flowing into Lake Erie
and its newly emerging "dead zone" are abundant
enough to keep Ohio fisheries biologist Roger Thoma and
other scientists busy for years.
"We need to get our act together," said Thoma,
who uses a special fishing boat to collect and count species,
ultimately determining pollution levels for the Ohio Environmental
Protection Agency. "The Lake Erie shoreline, that
area is almost totally destroyed. We need to protect the
habitat, and we need to clean up the mud."
But Lake Erie is just one part of the Great Lakes protection
puzzle. Other problems include Illinois' need for an electric
barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to keep
the Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan. New York wants to
stem the flow of PCBs into Lake Ontario. Also, there are
erosion problems on Lake Superior, and Michigan wants
to preserve coastal wetlands along Lake Huron to spur
With competing interests, Great Lakes' lawmakers often
end up on different sides in Congress to get money for
their individual projects. Now, there is a growing momentum
among federal lawmakers, Great Lakes state officials and
environmental groups to develop a comprehensive approach
for restoring the lakes.
"The problem is that you've got too many cooks in
this thing, and we need to have some symmetry and some
leadership," said U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican
A report released in May by the General Accounting Office,
the investigative arm of Congress, criticized the federal
government and states for failing to coordinate Great
Lakes cleanup programs.
"Without an overarching plan, we will not be able
to improve the health of the lakes as efficiently or as
comprehensively as we otherwise could," said Democratic
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan.
Many questions must be answered, including who will lead
the effort and whether Canada would be included.
Dennis Schornack, chairman of the U.S. section of the
International Joint Commission, said the Bush administration
should take the lead as recommended in the congressional
"All of the players are important, but we really
need leadership from the top to pull everything together,"
The commission, which the United States and Canada have
put in charge of monitoring the cleanup of 43 of the most
contaminated sites on the lakes, said in a recent report
that only two spots have been completely cleaned and "significant
challenges" remained in cleaning up the rest.
Last month, Great Lakes United, a coalition of environmental,
labor and consumer groups in both countries, released
its strategy book for cleaning the lakes.
Voinovich plans to meet with the group about the plan
this month, but the former Ohio governor believes that
states need to be in charge of writing their own cleanup
Federal lawmakers will take it from there, he said.
"We need to take a good hard look at the GAO report,
and it ought to be a wake up call to all of us in the
Great Lakes region," said U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine of
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Christopher
Jones said the states hope to have a comprehensive Great
Lakes strategy by 2005.
The first step is developing common goals that all the
states and other Great Lakes organizations support. Next,
they'll set deadlines and cost estimates. Finally, they'll
draft a plan and begin building momentum for it in their
states and in Congress.
"That is the challenge now, to be able to present
something to Congress from the collected states,"
said Jones, who is part of the Council of Great Lakes
Governors, which is chaired by Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.
The states' approach is modeled after the successful
restoration campaign pushed by lawmakers and advocates
of the Florida Everglades, who won $7.8 billion from Congress
But unlike the Everglades, which featured one ecosystem
in one state, the Great Lakes include many ecosystems
that are spread out over five lakes, eight states, two
Canadian provinces and countless coastal towns and cities.