The Ohio Lake Erie Commission held its annual conference in Mentor yesterday. Among other business, the Commission released its first progress report on a strategic plan to restore and protect the Lake Erie watershed. But it may be the upcoming work of a Commission subcommittee that will have the greatest impact on the future health of the Lake Erie ecosystem. 90.3 WCPN's Karen Schaefer has this report.
Karen Schaefer- The Ohio Lake Erie Commission was formed in 1990 by then Governor George Voinovich. Its mission is threefold: to protect Lake Erie's natural resources, restore damage to the lake's ecosystem, and promote sustainable economic development along Ohio's coastline. Last year the Commission created an 84-point strategic plan to implement that mission. Chairman Sam Speck says the plan is based on a concept called balanced growth.
Sam Speck- What do we mean by balanced growth or similar terms - smart growth - sustainable growth. I believe it's a way of looking at our challenges that promotes economic growth in a manner that is least disruptive to the environment.
KS- This year, the Commission released its first annual progress report on the plan. The 92-page report - available on the Commission's website - details the implementation of scores of new initiatives ranging from water quality to pollution sources to habitat restoration. But Chairman Speck - who also heads the Ohio Department of Natural Resources - says so far the most notable benefit of the plan is new cooperation between the Commission's six state agencies.
SS- For me, one of the things that is sort of behind the scenes and yet maybe is important or more important than anything else is the cooperation among the state agencies that has brought the progress that we've made this past year.
KS- Along with ODNR, Commission members include directors of the Ohio EPA, and the Departments of Agriculture, Development, Health, and Transportation. David Beach of EcoCity Cleveland, a non-profit environmental planning group, believes the work of the Commission is breaking new ground.
David Beach- I'm pretty excited that we're here at a state-sponsored conference talking about balanced growth in Ohio, a conference that has the blessing of state agencies and also, I hear, Governor Taft.
KS- Beach says, despite 30 years of clean-up, Lake Erie still needs help. Earlier this summer the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes praised states like Ohio for their efforts to reduce pollution. But Beach says the IJC warns there are both old and new challenges that must still be met.
DB- They say the integrity of the Great Lakes has been and continues to be compromised. Contaminated sediments in lakes produces health problems. Drinking water must still be extensively treated, swimming must often be prohibited and beaches closed. Fish are contaminated with persistent toxic substances. Also, increasing urbanization is adversely affecting water quality. So, if you live the Lake Erie watershed and you drink Lake Erie water, Lake Erie is, very likely, moving through you every day. We are the Lake, the Lake is us, literally. So if we're smart, we're going to take very good care of this lake.
KS- Jeff Busch is the Executive Director of the Lake Erie Commission. He says water quality issues related to urban sprawl are some of those being addressed.
Jeff Busch- Well, we talked about West Creek today in the conference. West Creek is in a highly urbanized area, mostly residential, and it's an area that was formerly a sanitary dump for the city of Parma... Both the city and private individuals have gotten together and they want to do something about it.
KS- A new initiative to help preserve natural resources for tourism was also highlighted at the conference. The state's seven Lake Erie counties hired Texas consultant Ted Eubanks to inventory Lake Erie's environmental attractions. Eubanks says despite tremendous losses, Ohio's coastline still has plenty to draw eco-tourists.
Ted Eubanks- The lakeshore of Ohio, Lake Erie, is perhaps the most impacted of all of the lakeshores in the Great Lakes. With that said, it isn't all lost, by any stretch of the imagination. It's there, whether it's the lakeshore at Mentor or Middle Bass Island or the alvar on Kelleys or Oak Openings. I mean, come on, those are truly remarkable sites that are worthy of our interest and conservation and the sort of sites that people will visit.
KS- But the most fundamental changes may be yet to come. This fall, a new 25-member committee appointed by the Commission will begin work on developing a plan for balanced growth to be implemented statewide. The plan will be modeled in part on examples of successful initiatives from states like Maryland that have taken a leadership role in balancing economic growth with environmental stewardship. Jeff Busch believes a balanced growth agenda will help re-position Ohio as an economic leader.
JB- People have to want these things, people have to see to see a need for them in their community. It's not going to happen by the state saying we're going to this, this and this. It's got to happen the other way. It's got to happen by people wanting to improve their quality of life, saving their communities. I mean, I'm under no illusions that this is going to be easy. Okay? No illusions.
KS- Busch isn't sanguine about the obstacles to developing what, for Ohio, will be a groundbreaking new direction. He admits one of the biggest challenges may be to convince people that voluntary cooperation with the new agenda is in their best economic interests. But he's hopeful that when the committee takes up is work this fall, Lake Erie and its watershed residents will be one step closer to a brighter future. In Mentor, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.