Monday, May 21, 2018
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Keith Burris


Devolution one answer to lake crisis



My wife and I spent a weekend on Lake Michigan recently. The water was beautifully clean. I wanted to go on to Lake Superior.

On a Sunday morning in a little Michigan village we watched a curious fisherman. He had a fairly large fish on the end of his line, and he was pulling the line with one hand and walking up and down the pier, while he held a cell phone in the other hand. Into that cell phone he was yelling: “Mary, bring the net. Bring the net, Mary. Just do this one thing for me, Mary.”

“I’m for the fish,” I told my wife.

“Way to root for the underdog,” she said.

I have little doubt that a) he did not intend to reel in the fish until Mary arrived and that b) if Mary did arrive she would skin and clean the fish. If my late, dear Mother, an expert fisherman in her day, had been present, she would have skinned the fisherman.

Toledo is a hell of an underdog right now. The long ignored algae problem in Lake Erie, along with the Marx Brothers-style pile up by state and local government, has turned Toledo’s national image into a glass of green slime: the city on a Great Lake where they could not drink the water.

The water crisis is a severe, self-inflicted body blow to the city’s prospects.

And at a time when we were almost at the tipping point of renaissance.

What do we do?

That’s clear.

There is only one thing to do.

Make Toledo the No. 1 “green” city in America.

Make it the No. 1 water-conservation city — in terms of study and practice — in the world.

How do we get there?

That’s harder.

We start with an international conference on the future of the Great Lakes — inviting all the governors of Great Lake States and the world’s top scientific minds on fresh water to come here and help us chart our future course.

Next, we adopt the British concept of “devolution” — moving power and resources from Washington and Columbus to regional authorities.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur wants Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana to create a kind of TVA for the Western Basin. It makes sense. And this devolution would follow the precedent of the “Other Ohio,” movement.

Move money and expertise to where the problem is.

The feds did this for the Everglades — funding a largely locally directed conservation effort to the tune of almost $9 billion.

By contrast we are currently looking at maybe $400 million for cleaning up Lake Erie.

Former Ohio EPA director Chris Jones, who now chairs the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, told me an interesting thing: He said that if we get our act together locally, and on the state level, the feds will follow. But they need to see a plan.

For a start, he said, gather all the key players together and agree on the top three of four things for an action agenda.

Devolution follows decisive local leadership.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.

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