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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2001

Lotus blooms as lake issue in Monroe

MONROE - In many communities along western Lake Erie - Toledo and Port Clinton included - the mayfly has become a symbol of the lake's ecological recovery.

Monroe, on the other hand, has decided to embrace the American lotus, that big, yellow water lily with a jasmine-like smell that was once endangered in Michigan.

Six state senators who belong to a Great Lakes legislative task force last night took comments from several area residents about lake issues ranging from tribal fishing laws to sewage treatment regulations. But one of the most surprising moments seemed to be how much prominence the lotus had under the limelight.

Some talked about strides that have been taken to bring back the lotus to their county and how they are trying to raise money to buy a 32-acre island east of the city called - what else? - Lotus Island. Jeanne Micka, conservation chairman and past president of the Lotus Garden Club of Monroe, proposed that senators endorse her plan to have the lotus named Michigan's official state symbol for water quality. She asked the state to help fund efforts to acquire the island, which she said was put up for sale about a year ago. Acquiring it has become a priority for the southeast district office of the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan, she said.

Monroe's lotus population suffered an ecological fate similar to that of the mayfly after the county found itself mired in industrial pollution and sewage problems in the late 1960s. That, plus floods of the 1970s, nearly wiped out the flower.

Several of Monroe's largest companies have helped fund efforts to replant the lotus in recent years, an effort successful enough to be documented with satellite mapping. The attention given to the flower had a spinoff effect: More people have come to appreciate the diversity of wetlands, swampy areas that have been touted by biologists as nature's kidneys because of their ability to filter contaminants. “It is about time the wetlands of Monroe County are taken as seriously as those in the rest of the state,” Mrs. Micka said.

The hearing was the third of eight the task force has scheduled across the state to gather a variety of opinions about the Great Lakes.

About 60 people attended, the largest turnout so far. Their concerns ranged from the continuing effect of zebra mussels to the type of contaminants flowing down from the Detroit River.

Andrew Van Slambrouck, a property owner who belongs to one of 13 small beach associations in Frenchtown Township, said residents in his part of Monroe County are frustrated by beach bacteria. “When you go in the water, the water goes in you,” Mr. Van Slambrouck told the panel, chaired by state Sen. Ken Sikkema (R., Grand Rapids).

Members of families in his waterfront beach association have complained of getting sick after entering the lake. He urged state officials to expand bacteria testing to include smaller neighborhood beaches, not just the major state parks. “You can't throw a stick in the water and let your dog go in there. You think that's funny?” an exasperated Mr. Van Slambrouck asked the panel.



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