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Proposed cuts to Great Lakes funds worry local officials

  • steel-plant-and-b-ack-river-jpg

    The idled steel mill is seen from across the Black River. The city of Lorain has spent more than $12 million to clean up the river -- money now in jeopardy based on potential federal budget cuts.

    BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE

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LORAIN — Local officials said Monday they’re concerned about potential cuts to the federal budget that — if enacted — dramatically would slash the amount of money being put into the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Detroit Free Press reported last week that the program would be cut from $300 million per year to $10 million under a proposal being examined by the administration of President Donald Trump.

“Their mission ought to be to care about it, but now, obviously, their mission has changed with the new administration,” Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said of potential cuts to grants that have flowed to the city of Lorain and Lorain County over the past seven year from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Based on the rhetoric he’s hearing from Washington, Ritenauer, a Democrat, said the focus now appears to be on cutting regulations and red tape.

Since 2010, the city and the county have receiving more than $15.2 million in federal funding for programs designed to clean up the Black River watershed.

The bulk of the money — nearly $12.6 million — has gone to the city for projects including rehabilitating the river near the city’s steel mills, including cleaning the water for fish and removing byproducts that have gone into the water from heavy industry.

“It’s meant to try to clean up that area because of the pollutants that have been put into the water over the years,” Ritenauer said.

The county, meanwhile, has received a little less than $2.7 million with those funds being targeted to pay for dealing with invasive plant species along the Black River and restoration work on Willow Creek in Eaton Township Park as well as wetlands restoration in the Margaret Peak Nature Preserve.

Cuts to the funding could be a setback to progress on the efforts to clean up not only the Black River but also Lake Erie, according to Lorain County Community Development director Don Romancak.

“If the pool of money gets shrunk, it’s that much more competitive and that much more difficult for us to bring those dollars back to Lorain County,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, who represents much of the Lake Erie shoreline in Congress, sits on the House Appropriations Committee where funding decisions are made. She expressed concern about the possible cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in a statement Monday.

“It is hard to imagine a more perilous time for the Trump administration to abandon efforts that protect and restore our Great Lakes,” Kaptur said. “With a bipartisan effort, we can turn back ill-advised attacks on the health and quality of the lakes if President Trump proposes them. It will be all hands on deck for our Great Lakes.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, also said he was worried about funding cuts to the EPA and NOAA and what impact it could have. Cutting funding to the scientists who work at Ohio State University’s Stone Lab in Put-in-Bay would hurt monitoring efforts of problems like algal blooms and imperil the drinking water, he said in a statement.

“Any cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative pose a direct threat to Lake Erie and our drinking water, and these reported cuts would effectively eliminate this important program and the progress we’ve made in improving the health of the Lakes,” Brown said in his statement. “If these reports are true, I will fight like hell in the Senate appropriations process by working with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to restore this funding in full.”

Emily Benavides, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, said Monday that Portman supports the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and has fought for it in the past.

“This initiative has been a successful tool in our efforts to help protect and restore Lake Erie, and Rob will continue to fight for it, just as he did when the Obama administration proposed cuts to the program,” Benavides said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.



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