Funds for Great Lakes may be victim of Katrina too


There could be an overlooked victim of Hurricane Katrina: the Great Lakes.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Joe Koncelik said yesterday that the region's hopes of getting a $20 billion investment under the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration effort could have suffered a blow from the hurricane for the simple reason that the federal government has only so much money to go around.

He made his comments at the conclusion of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission's quarterly meeting at the University of Toledo's Lake Erie Center.

The lake commission, composed of state agency directors, heads up Lake Erie policy in the state.

The collaborative effort is one that was put together by the White House in December to unify the Great Lakes region on a common set of priorities for restoring and protecting the world's largest source of fresh surface water.

Though the Bush administration has not committed itself to a dollar figure, environmentalists have estimated it would take $20 billion to fund all work proposed by a task force, the majority of which is sewage improvements. In any event, the collaborative Great Lakes program is touted as an ecosystem restoration effort that has the potential of surpassing the $8 billion level that Congress approved a few years ago for the Florida Everglades, which set a record for ecosystem restoration funding.

Mr. Koncelik said the Great Lakes region may have to scale back its request. The public comment period ended Friday. A report is to be made final in December.

Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor said he's aware of the need to help New Orleans and other distressed Gulf Coast communities but said that shouldn't lessen enthusiasm for investing in the Great Lakes.