Develop a consensus-based Great Lakes Restoration Plan
By Nathaniel E. Robinson
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Great Lakes Commission
To appear in the September/October Advisor
In March of this year, members of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force invited the Great Lakes governors to coordinate development of a comprehensive, region-wide Great Lakes Restoration Plan that would reflect a broad-based regional consensus on legislative, appropriations and program priorities. Several governors have responded individually, but a greater opportunity lies ahead: a commitment that all governors — and the entire community of Great Lakes interests — join forces to weave a common thread among their individual visions, plans and priorities.
The time to act swiftly and boldly is now; the window of opportunity to influence the upcoming second session of the 107th Congress is fading fast. In fact, it is slipping away right before our eyes!
The Great Lakes policy community, particularly our state leadership, has a tremendous opportunity to advance, influence and advocate public policy that will ensure the informed use of the Great Lakes and protect, preserve and enhance the region’s environmental and economic prosperity. The Congressional Great Lakes Task Force has opened the door by specifically requesting a plan, and we have an opportunity to seize the moment. It is that plain and simple!
This year has seen enhanced interest in the development of a comprehensive, consensus-based strategy that presents a shared vision for the Great Lakes basin. The impetus for this increased interest can be attributed to several factors, including successful initiatives in other regions (e.g., the Everglades Restoration Plan), the pronounced regional interest in the Great Lakes Commission’s Great Lakes Program to Ensure Environmental and Economic Prosperity, and the growing perception that the Great Lakes community is losing its influence due to the absence of a unified vision and a collective, effective strategy to achieve it.
The Great Lakes community is now well positioned to move aggressively to develop a Great Lakes Restoration Plan. Political will and motivation have heightened, Congress has clearly indicated it is receptive, and numerous building blocks are available. For example, many other restoration plan initiatives are underway on an agency-specific basis. The U.S. EPA, USGS, U.S. Coast Guard, Corps of Engineers and NOAA, among others, also have either finalized or are in the process of developing such plans. Regional agencies, like the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, have developed plans as well. And thanks to Congressional Great Lakes Task Force leadership, the Great Lakes states are receiving a one-time $30 million allocation earmarked specifically for coastal restoration.
While these individual efforts are laudable, we still need a unified, consensus-based, region-wide Great Lakes Restoration Plan and we need it NOW! I’m pleased to note that my own governor, Scott McCallum, also senses this urgency and is encouraging his fellow governors and premiers, and the Great Lakes Commission, to aggressively develop a unified plan (see his essay in the upcoming issue of the Advisor).
A plan development process needs to be devised now, and a plan development team assembled that provides the expertise, diverse representation and political support needed to get the job done. Let’s build upon the many agency-specific restoration plans already available or in process, and consider a “Restoration Plan Summit” in the next couple months to pull it all together. And let’s work toward a release date early enough next year to influence the upcoming second session of Congress and make a difference in FY2003. This will help ensure that the priorities and strategic plans of participating agencies are consistent with, and linked to, the over-arching Great Lakes Restoration Plan. I will gladly make the technical and facilitation capabilities of the Great Lakes Commission available to assist in the effort.
We, as a Great Lakes community, know what we should do and we know what we need to do. Now is the time to ascend to the next level and forge an even more effective partnership and strategic alliance within government, the private sector, our citizen organizations and the entire Great Lakes community. Let’s not squander our time away! Let’s not forfeit this opportunity! Let’s get the job done! Let’s just do it and let’s do it now!
The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Nathaniel E. Robinson (Wisconsin), is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency created by state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of state legislators, agency officials and governors’ appointees from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Quebec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.