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One mayor makes a difference & update on federal Great Lakes legislation
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Muskegon Chronicle (Michigan, US) by Dave LeMieux

Norm Ullman insists there would have been a Tannery Bay cleanup whether or not he was Whitehall's mayor.

But cleanups often begin sooner and cost less because of local officials like Ullman, said David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes Cities Initiative.

Ullrich delivered the keynote address at Grand Valley State University's State of the Lake Conference, which opened Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor.

Local officials like Ullman can play a pivotal role in helping solve the larger issues facing the Great Lakes, said Ullrich, who recently retired following a 30-year career with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

There are 33 watersheds in 96 counties surrounding Lake Michigan, said Judy Beck, EPA team manager, illustrating the importance of local efforts.

Ullrich said local government officials have more clout with the national and international organizations wrestling with critical Great Lakes issues like contaminated sediments and invasive species.

"The mayors are extremely important in the process of identifying the key issues which need research, making the plans and taking the actions that need to be taken," said Ullrich.

There is usually political pressure on mayors to act quickly to solve problems, says Ullrich. "I'm convinced you get better solutions and you get them faster and you usually get them cheaper, too."

"Norm's vision was critical," said Alan Steinman, director of Grand Valley's Annis Water Resources Institute. "A compelling personality can help catalyze the reactions that make these events happen."

Ullman said he was only doing what he was elected to do.

"The position of mayor gives you a bully pulpit, a place you can be heard from," he said. "Hopefully you can cause some things to come together and have something happen."

Ullman was among the first to arrive on Tuesday.

"There are a couple of reasons conferences like this are important," said Ullman. "You can get some ideas and you can make contacts with people that can help you."

The presence of Ullman and other community leaders is what makes the State of the Lake Conference unique.

"Our mission here is to provide technical information in a form that is palatable," said Steinman.

But no matter how successful, local efforts will mean little unless larger issues are faced, said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation.

Bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress this summer could determine the extent and nature of future Great Lakes restoration efforts, Davis said.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Great Lakes Restoration Financing Act of 2003 (H.R. 2720) would set aside $4 billion for restoration and research over 5 years.

In the U.S. Senate, the Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act (S. 1398) would provide $6 billion for a 10-year effort.

"These bills create a restoration standard that goes beyond merely doing no further harm," said Davis. "They're saying let's make things better."

Legislators from states as far removed from the Great Lakes as Arizona and Hawaii recognize the importance of the lakes, said Davis, and are supporting the legislation.

 

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