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Published: Thursday, 4/28/2005

Planning for lakes restoration follows Bush's lead

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Environmental groups are often seen as not following the Bush administration's lead, but in restoration planning efforts for the Great Lakes, that appears to be happening.

On Dec. 3, the setting was a downtown Chicago hotel. An event billed as history's largest gathering of Great Lakes area government officials and tribal leaders was held amid much fanfare, with dignitaries entering a packed ballroom to the sounds of bagpipers.

Then-U.S. EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and outgoing Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge revealed President Bush's vision for a program called Great Lakes Regional Collaboration. The effort was described as one to unify the region with a single voice for congressional funding requests, rather than leaving it up to a hodgepodge of interests spread across eight states.

Yesterday, a coalition of 55 Great Lakes area conservation, parks, and academic groups announced the formation of a coalition called Healing Our Waters to have a single voice as a watchdog for that process.

There were no bagpipers. No hotel. Just a telephone conference call with reporters and e-mail distribution of a two-page press release. But the scope of their mission was described as similar.

Co-chairmen Tom Kiernan and Andy Buchsbaum said that Healing Our Waters goes beyond traditional environmental activists and includes the venerable National Parks Conservation Association, of which Mr. Kiernan is president. That association was established in 1919 with the mission of protecting the National Park System.

Academia weighs in with at least one member, the University of Michigan's school of natural resources, according to a partial list of groups identified in the press release.

Other identified groups included the Alliance for the Great Lakes (formerly the Lake Michigan Federation), American Rivers, Ducks Unlimited, Great Lakes United, The Nature Conservancy, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Sierra Club, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

The Wege Foundation at Steelcase University in Grand Rapids, Mich., has pledged $5 million over five years to support the activities of Healing Our Waters.

The model for Healing Our Waters will be a similar coalition which stimulated congressional interest in Florida's Everglades, the co-chairmen said.

Five years ago, Congress agreed to spend $8 billion to restore the Everglades, the largest allocation for a single ecosystem in the nation's history. It created a buzz among many admittedly envious Great Lakes political leaders.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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