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Great Lakes Article:

Cowles pushes for watershed grant
Money would help find source of beach bacteria John Dipko
Green Bay Press-Gazette Madison bureau
Posted 10/10/2002

MADISON - A Northeastern Wisconsin lawmaker wants Gov. Scott McCallum to seek federal funds that might help answer why high concentrations of contaminants surfaced in parts of Lake Michigan in July, sickening Door County vacationers and forcing beaches to close.

State Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Allouez, has asked McCallum in writing to nominate Lake Michigan and surrounding lands to be part of a new, $21 million grant program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The program promotes promising approaches to clean water through an emphasis on watersheds, or waterways and the lands that drain into them.

“We just learned about this program late last week and thought, ‘Here’s an opportunity to find some resources to try and define the problem,’” Cowles said. “We haven’t been able to find any dollars to find out the cause of the beach closings in Door County. It just makes sense to make Lake Michigan be the watershed of choice.”

In addition to Door County, contamination problems have closed beaches in southeast Wisconsin over the years, Cowles said.

Lauren Lent, co-owner of Edge of Park Inc., a bicycle and moped rental company at the entrance of Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek, said she and her family have been swimming in the lake for years without getting sick, but it’s still a good idea to seek the cause of the bacteria’s presence before it worsens.

“Looking into it can’t do any harm, and it’s something I suppose shouldn’t be let go,” Lent said.

President Bush’s 2003 budget includes funding for the grant program, and nominations are due late next month. Up to 20 watersheds would be chosen on a competitive basis for the program.

Project awards would range from $300,000 to $1.3 million, according to the EPA.

Cowles told McCallum that a “beach contamination crisis” hit Door County in July and August when tests of the water showed levels of E. coli bacteria far exceeded federal standards. Dozens of campers and other visitors became sick and numerous beaches closed for days at a time.

There is a hitch to the program. It requires a nonfederal match that equals 25 percent of the total cost of whatever project goes forth.

The state already faces a budget deficit of up to $2.8 billion in the next biennium.

Cowles said the matching requirement would not necessarily need to be funded with state resources because “in-kind” goods and services, such as volunteers and their time and equipment, would count toward the match.

The lawmaker’s office had not received a response from the governor by Tuesday afternoon.

According to EPA rules, McCallum may nominate up to two state watersheds for the program.

Projects that cross state lines and have the support of the states involved aren’t counted toward to two-nomination limit and would be given “extra consideration” in the scoring process, the EPA said.

Rhonda Kolberg, director of the Door County Public Health Department, said the county’s board of health agreed Monday to have a resolution sent to the County Board in support of the nomination.

“The board of health was supportive of this because we want to look at both sides of the problem — the testing and monitoring and the source identification,” she said.

Rebecca Katers, executive director of the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, voiced cautious optimism over the program. She said the group would support the nomination as long as a “water quality credit trading” concept was not part of the work that would occur.

In the concept, polluters who exceed federal clean water standards would be able to buy credits from others polluting below their legal limits.

“The water quality credits and pollution trading would be of great concern to us,” Katers said.

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