New Great Lakes Bill Targets Areas of Concern

U.S. Senators George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, on May 8 introduced the bipartisan Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2008 to expand on legislation passed six years ago. The bill aims to clean up contaminated expanses in the Great Lakes known as "Areas of Concern" within 10 years.

"Protecting and restoring the Great Lakes has been a top priority of mine throughout my political career," Voinovich said. "As co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, I am focused on working with the Great Lakes delegation to advance restoration efforts in this critical region. This bill will provide the Environmental Protection Agency with the tools and resources to remove contaminated sediment and clean up Ohio's Areas of Concern, which include the Maumee, Black, Cuyahoga, and Ashtabula rivers. The Legacy program is a vital piece of a comprehensive strategy that is absolutely necessary to protect the Great Lakes for generations to come."

Forty-three Areas of Concern have been identified in the Great Lakes, 13 of which are in Michigan and four in Ohio. These sites do not meet the water quality goals established by the United States and Canada in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, mainly because of contaminated sediments from historic industrial activity. This contamination results in several detrimental consequences including fish advisories, degradation of fish and wildlife populations, taste and odor problems with drinking water, beach closures, and bird and animal deformities or reproductive problems.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2008 would authorize $150 million annually for clean up of the Areas of Concern within 10 years. The legislation gives EPA greater flexibility to manage funds by allowing it to distribute funds directly to contractors and would provide relief to states from burdensome requirements. Under this bill, eligible projects would be expanded to include habitat restoration. Many Areas of Concern cannot be delisted until habitat restoration work is done. Also, the bill would give EPA the discretion to provide Legacy Act monies to demonstration and pilot projects.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2002 contributed significantly to the effort to clean up Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes. Almost 800,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments have been removed since the program was created in 2002. This material has been safely removed from riverbeds so that it no longer poses a threat to human health or the wildlife.

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