Legislature Shows Support For Great Lakes Program

MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County legislators are taking a stance against President Donald Trump’s plans to slash funding for a program that’s helped improve Lake Erie and the Great Lakes system as a whole.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the legislature unanimously supported a motion opposing any funding cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative under the Environmental Protection Agency. The program initiated in 2010 and tackles some of the largest threats posed to the Great Lakes system, whether it be algal blooms, invasive species or pollution issues.

Trump’s plan details states and local entities taking over responsibility to fund local environmental efforts to allow the EPA “to focus on its highest national priorities.” The program, which receives around $300 million annually, has aided around 3,000 projects among states that line the Great Lakes.

A coalition of concerned residents sat in the gallery of the legislative chambers Wednesday evening, cheering and clapping as residents spoke in support of the motion. Dr. Sherri Mason, SUNY Fredonia faculty member, was one of a few who took to the podium to discuss concerns with a proposed funding cut of 97 percent. Mason has been at the forefront of research on plastic pollution within freshwater systems that include Lake Erie.

Mason told legislators the funding for her research comes from the agency’s restoration initiative and grants. She said it wasn’t too long ago when rivers and the Great Lakes were so bad that they were considered dead between algal blooms and other issues.

“My research would not be possible if these things were cut as proposed under the current legislation,” Mason said. “It’s because of the EPA, sea grant agencies, the Clean Water Act and various environmental initiatives that have taken place over the last 30 years that have the Great Lakes back to its current state.”

The County Legislature has ramped up efforts to maintain and improve area lakes and waterways. In 2015, legislators enacted a local law prohibiting the sale of personal care products containing microbeads in the county. Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., later took action on the issue to ban the sale and distribution of such products.

County legislator George Borrello, R-Irving, brought forth the microbead local law and the motion to support Great Lakes funding. Borrello, who chairs the Lake Erie Management Commission, said lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are looking to improve infrastructure in the U.S. Borrello said he can’t think of a more important infrastructure need than drinking water.

“We are speaking to the fact that if they’re looking to truly support infrastructure in the U.S., as been pledged by the president and many members of Congress, than keeping this funding in there is integral to that,” Borrello said. “Not only is this important for drinking water, it’s important for commercial traffic, commerce, economic development and the millions of people that surround the Great Lakes.”

Borrello said there’s been several projects funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

According to the EPA, the Great Lakes make up the largest surface freshwater system on Earth. Only the polar ice caps contain more fresh water.

The Great Lakes Basin encompasses more than 30 million people, or roughly 10 percent, of the U.S. population and more than 30 percent of the Canadian population.

Pomfret resident Robert Dando spoke in favor of the motion. He said the next pipeline built could be one that feeds water from the Great Lakes to the west.

“This is one of things that’s going to be coming up in the future,” he said. “There’s going to be a divide between the water-rich east U.S. and the lack of water that the western states have. I think they’re going to continue with the drought they have out there. We have to encourage that we keep funding projects that continue keeping the Great Lakes important and steady.”

While he supports a leaner approach to spending, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed told The Post-Journal he also cares about preserving programs which create good-paying jobs and help people across the region.

“If we continue to ignore our $21 trillion debt, we are forcing our children to shoulder that burden which is unfair and unacceptable,” Reed said. “I am confident that as we move through the legislative process, we will find consensus and look forward to working with the president.”