EPA chief visits Lake Ontario
By Mark Weiner
Published August 11th, 2004
President Bush's environmental chief visited Central New
York on Tuesday to see Lake Ontario - the good, the bad
and the potential for the future - for the first time.
And he was impressed by what he saw.
Mike Leavitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, took a one-hour tour of the lake and
Port of Oswego while on board a World War II-era tugboat.
In the middle of his tour, he offered his first impression
of the smallest of the Great Lakes, one that covers 7,540
"I think most people would be surprised by the
size and scope of it," Leavitt said. "There's
nothing like seeing it to understand it."
The former Utah governor, who took over the EPA on Nov.
6, joined about 25 federal, state and local officials
on the former U.S. Army tug Maj. Elisha K. Henson.
The tug, based at the H. Lee White Marine Museum in Oswego,
is a National Historic Landmark known as LT-5 because
it was the fifth-largest Army tug of eight manufactured
for the D-Day invasion. It moved barges and ammunition
to the beaches of Normandy.
Tuesday, the tug's mission was to help make Leavitt and
Bush aware of the environmental issues facing the Great
Lakes as the administration attempts to build support
for a federal initiative focusing on the lakes.
Leavitt is meeting with public officials throughout the
Great Lakes to encourage cooperation with a federal Great
Lakes task force that will address nine priority issues
facing the region.
Earlier this month, New York joined an interstate compact
that would make it nearly impossible to divert large quantities
of water from the Great Lakes to other parts of the country.
Leavitt said the only other Great Lake he has visited
is Lake Erie, but many of the challenges are the same
for communities throughout the region.
He said the two biggest problems facing the Great Lakes
are invasive species, such as zebra mussels, and the overflow
of sewage into the lakes and their tributaries.
The EPA administrator said he learned Tuesday how vital
Lake Ontario is to the community, serving important roles
for recreation, tourism, commerce, industry and as the
source of drinking water for Central New York.
Asked what he found interesting about the lake, the administrator
said, "I'm impressed with the clarity of the water."
Leavitt said he knew the clear water was probably one
of the few beneficial aspects of zebra mussels, dime-sized
mollusks that have caused billions of dollars worth of
damage in the Great Lakes.
Leavitt said the first goal of the administration's Great
Lakes task force will be to develop action plans to deal
with the nine priorities singled out by stakeholders in
the states bordering the lakes.