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Published: Wednesday, 10/5/2011


Mini-CCC for the lakes

The Obama Administration wants to give the Great Lakes region a little taste of New Deal-era gusto, with an environmental twist.

The White House says it will spend $6.6 million -- more than a third of that in the Toledo area -- to fund eight small-work projects across the Great Lakes basin. Each offers 20 or more temporary jobs for young people who are willing to get dirty to improve wildlife habitat and water quality. Assignments include stabilizing riverbanks to combat flooding and pollution from erosion, and killing invasive weeds that choke out native wetland plants.

For the Toledo area, that means $2.4 million for 80 mostly season jobs that will start next spring. Most will last a year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes laboratory in Ann Arbor has been awarded $1 million to control invasive plants in the Lower Black River, which flows primarily through Lorain County, and $811, 252 to restore habitat in the Maumee River and other local waterways.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will get $480,000 for conservation, restoration, and outreach at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Ottawa County. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce plans for five other projects later this week.

It's unclear how much the investment is motivated by election-season politics in potential swing states. Conservatives will scoff that it is another government program that doesn't have legs to stand on its own. Yet studies continue to show that placing more wealth in the hands of the rich has failed to create jobs.

The projects will be paid for from President Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, funded this year at $300 million. The $6.6 million price tag is not enough to crimp plans for costly capital projects such as better sewer systems through that initiative.

The program resembles a miniature version of President Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, which put 2.5 million people to work over nine years during the Depression. But even a few idle hands put to useful environmental work is worthwhile. This region needs work, and it needs healthier lakes for everything from tourism to public health.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said that tending to the Great Lakes' ecology "is like cutting your grass" -- necessary periodic maintenance. If it creates a few jobs, so much the better.

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