Great Lakes mayors have formed a new group to unify their goals for the lakes in the wake of a federal report that claimed such coordination has been sorely lacking across all levels of government.
The Great Lakes Cities Initiative, based on Chicago, will help U.S. and Canadian mayors develop consistent policies and restoration efforts. A broad spectrum of issues will be covered, from beach quality to shoreline development to invasive-species control.
Toledo is expected to be one of the key players, being the sixth-largest port city on the Great Lakes and a hotbed for Lake Erie-based ecological, tourism, recreation, health, and business activity. And western Lake Erie - being the warmest and shallowest area - is the most productive region of the Great Lakes for fish spawning.
“The sole issue of water is becoming huge,” Mayor Jack Ford said, referring to legal skirmishes in the Southwest. “I think it's going to become the issue in the country one day, just like health care. Water diversion, water quality, drinking water and waterfront development - all of it.''
U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, a former Cleveland mayor and former Ohio governor, last week led a congressional hearing on the lack of coordination among Great Lakes programs. He believes the mayoral group could inspire better coordination of Great Lakes programs at all levels, spokesman Scott Milburn said.
“He knows how much local officials can impact lake quality,” Mr. Milburn said. Mr. Voinovich is chairman of the subcommittee of government management, part of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
The hearing was in response to a report issued May 21 by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The report said the Great Lakes are governed by a hodgepodge of 50-some state and federal programs, plus many at the local level. It called upon the U.S. EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office to take a lead role.
“It has to be at all three levels,” Mr. Ford said of coordination. “Mayors often have a pretty good political feel at the local level and can influence their legislators,” he said.
Better coordination could help the Great Lakes region win support for an Everglades-like allocation. Florida's congressional delegation in 2000 secured an $8 billion restoration package for the Everglades, the largest single investment America has made in an ecosystem.
U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) recently introduced a bill for $6 billion over 10 years. A similar bill, calling for $4 billion over five years, was introduced in the House by Chicago-area representatives.
“Restoring the Great Lakes could be the greatest legacy any of us will leave on this earth,” Mr. Voinovich said at his hearing.