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Great Lakes Article:

Lawmakers, activists hope to join forces on Great Lakes cleanup
By Malia Rulon
Associated Press Writer
07/05/03

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 tourism.

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 from Cleveland.

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 report.

"All of the players are important, but we really need leadership from the top to pull everything together," Schornack said.

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 strategy.

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.

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 in 2000.

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.

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