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Great Lakes Article:

Presque Isle panel mulls future
John Bartlett
Erie Times News

The Presque Isle Bay Public Advisory Committee is considering expanding its education role and seeking greater community involvement in protecting the bay.

Committee members discussed Monday what steps the panel needs to take to meet new demands for monitoring the bay and ensuring its long-term health. The committee decided to hold a conference in January to further those goals.

The debate comes in the wake of the Environmental Protection Agency's decision Dec. 5 to upgrade the bay from an "Area of Concern" to an "Area of Concern in a Recovery Stage," a recognition of the successful effort to clean up the waterway's pollution. Presque Isle Bay is the first Area of Concern to which the EPA has granted the new recovery-stage designation.

The International Joint Commission, the joint U.S.-Canadian body that oversees management of the Great Lakes, designated the bay an Area of Concern in 1991.

The committee's immediate concern is working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a monitoring plan for the bay and setting the targets and decision-making process for the bay's eventual delisting as an Area of Concern. Those details are to be worked out within the next six months.

But the committee, charged with helping DEP coordinate and oversee the bay's cleanup, now believes it must evolve and change to meet the new demands for monitoring the bay and ensuring its long-term health. On Monday, the committee was looking at how it will function in the future and involve the community in protecting the bay.

Committee member Anne Danielski of Pennsylvania Sea Grant suggested the committee expand its role to focus more on education and to involve more individuals and groups in the group's monitoring and educational efforts. Danielski said widespread community support for a monitoring and restoration campaign is what the bay needs.

Gannon University professor Rick Diz, a former committee chairman, agreed. "This committee's work needs to shift from the bay itself into the watershed," he said.

The actions of every individual who lives within the bay's watershed affect the health of the bay, he said.

"If this committee can be the center of that shift, I think that's what we ought to do," Diz said.

Other committee members met Danielski's and Diz's suggestions with general support, and agreed to hold a conference Jan. 13 to discuss its evolving role and to explore specific education and community-based programs that would be a part of its work. The hope is to have a program outline in place to apply for a state Growing Greener grant in February.

The committee also discussed its future leadership.

Most members supported continuing to have a DEP official serve as chairman of the advisory committee. Other than Diz, who headed the committee for two years, a state official always has held the post.

The committee is unique in that regard among all the Areas of Concern in the United States, said Kelly Burch, DEP's current chairman and regional director.

Lori Boughton, chief of DEP's Office of the Great Lakes, briefly outlined for the committee the monitoring plan that must be developed and submitted to EPA. She also reviewed a new $250 million federal program for the Great Lakes that could provide funding for the ongoing monitoring.

Burch reassured the committee that the recovery stage designation will not hinder access to federal dollars.

"We are not going to miss out on funds," Burch said. "In fact, I see additional funding coming to us for this."
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