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Environmental activists talk lake cleanup

Tom Jackson • Sep 20, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Disappointing, because only about a dozen people showed. Inspiring, because everyone there seemed to be well-informed and passionate.

The public hearing was to discuss the new International Joint Commission’s Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority Plan to clean up Lake Erie over the next few years. The plan is posted at the commission’s website, www.ijc.org  , and comments are being taken until Oct. 5. The report stresses the need to reduce phosphorus going into the lake, a key part of the effort to eliminate harmful algal blooms, such as the large bloom in 2011.

Many of the audience members who spoke at the hearing, at the Erie County Conservation League on Mason Road, brought up issues they thought had been overlooked or neglected in the draft report.

Kathie Mueller, active for years in water cleanup efforts in Erie County, and Rick Graham, past president of the Ohio chapter of the Izaak Walton League, both denounced open lake dumping, the Army Corps of Engineers’ practice of depositing large amounts of dirt into Lake Erie after dredging Ohio harbors.

“I’m really fired up about that open lake dumping,” Mueller said. “We have empty boxcars leaving this area every day. We need to find some other ways of disposing of that.”

“There are no other states that are permitting it anywhere,” said Graham, who showed up for the meeting wearing a shirt decorated with pictures of fish.

Dave Dempsey, an IJC policy adviser who co-authored the report, promised to mention open lake dumping in the final version of the report and agreed that it needs to be phased out.

“It’s an archaic practice,” Dempsey said.

Cindy Brookes, watershed specialist for the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition, said the report needs to pay more attention to family home sewage systems. Many release untreated sewage straight into a stream, she said.

Brookes also expressed concern over the IJC’s proposal to tie crop insurance eligibility and pricing to certain conservation practices. She said planners need to make sure they aren’t restricting creative new ways to improve yield while avoidingpolluting the lake.

Dempsey said the final report will discuss septic tanks and said he’s interested in discussing whether the proposed crop insurance rule would do more harm than good.

He stressed that efforts to clean up Lake Erie are really important.

He suggested the first Battle of Lake Erie was the famous battle 200 years ago that’s currently being celebrated and the second one was the successful effort in the 1960s and 1970s to clean up the lake.

“What we’re involved in is the third Battle of Lake Erie,” he said.

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