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Great Lakes Article:

EPA chief visits Lake Ontario
By Mark Weiner
Post Standard
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 square miles.

"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.


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