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Published: Thursday, 5/15/2008

Great Lakes' pact ratified by Michigan

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Michigan yesterday became the fifth state to ratify plans for establishing a binding compact among Great Lakes states that aims to keep the region's water from being shipped or diverted to dry parts of the country.

Wisconsin moved into position to become the sixth as early as today, passing the measure in its Senate yesterday by a 32-1 vote.

The Michigan vote was unanimous in both of its legislative chambers, 108-0 in the House and 38-0 in the Senate.

"It's another strong statement about the consensus that's been built in the region," David Naftzger, executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said of the votes in the three chambers.

The Wisconsin House, which at one time was aligned with an opposition movement in the Ohio Senate, announced weeks ago it resolved its concerns and was ready to vote in favor of ratification.

The holdup appears to be a House vote on the Wisconsin budget today. Once that's done, the Wisconsin House should approve the compact, Mr. Naftzger said.

Both Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle said they will sign the measures into law in their respective states.

Ohio, once viewed as the front-runner on the issue, could end up being the laggard.

Both the Buckeye State and Pennsylvania have passed the measure in their state Houses. Both have bills pending in their Senates.

But state Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterfield), the leader of Ohio's opposition movement, is trying to get Ohio's vote postponed until after the Nov. 4 general election. He has the support of Senate leadership.

Mr. Grendell has said he fears the proposal, as written, could infringe upon private ownership of groundwater, ditches, and inland bodies of water.

He said he'd support the proposed compact if Ohio voters approve an amendment to the state Constitution that he hopes will establish ownership clarity.

He said state Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) is co-sponsoring his proposed amendment.

Authorization from three-fifths of both the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House, the latter of which has ratified the proposed compact by a 90-3 vote, is necessary for it to get on the Nov. 4 ballot.

State Rep. Matt Dolan (R., Novelty), who sponsored the bill passed by the Ohio House, said in a May 6 letter published by The Blade that individual property rights to groundwater are protected under the compact and that statements to the contrary are "simply misleading and incomplete."

Great Lakes governors took the proposed compact to their legislators 2 1/2 years ago.

The impetus for it was a 1998 attempt to export Lake Superior water to Asia by a Canadian firm called the Nova Group. Governors were advised to close legal loopholes.

At a June, 2001, summit in Niagara Falls, Ont., they began the process that led to the present legislation.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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