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Wetlands enhancement along Great Lakes is bills' objective

PORT CLINTON - Ongoing efforts to protect some of the most valuable coastal wetlands along Lake Erie could be enhanced if a pair of congressional bills are approved.

The bills would extend the boundaries for which the federal government can attempt to expand the sprawling Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex, an 8,316-acre region that includes the Cedar Point, Ottawa, and West Sister Island preserves east of Toledo.

Money for acquiring large chunks of property or accepting donations of land likely would have to come from separate appropriations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has had a land-acquisition program for years, but has been limited in scope to 5,000 acres in Lucas, Erie, Ottawa, and Sandusky counties, officials said.

Bills introduced by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) would give the agency a wider area for negotiations with property owners, including the Lake Erie islands.

Miss Kaptur said in a prepared statement Tuesday she is hopeful her bill, introduced in the House in May, will come up for a final vote before Congress adjourns. A subcommittee held a hearing on it in July.

Mr. Voinovich introduced a bill Tuesday in the Senate. The senator's press secretary, Scott Milburn, described it as companion legislation to Miss Kaptur's bill that was introduced to “facilitate passage” of what might come out of the House.

Jim Leach, a supervisor in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest regional office in Fort Snelling, Minn., said the agency welcomes efforts to help expand the refuge.

“Surely, we're in support of any wetlands protection,” Dan Frisk, refuge manager, said.

Ohio trails only California in terms of wetlands loss. The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge complex is ranked as one of the nation's top birder sites. It draws 120,000 visitors a year and has an estimated impact of $5.6 million a year on the local economy, officials said.

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