Loss of Great Lakes funding threatens our area resource

This is an open letter to U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who represents District 23:

The Local Economic Development Committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation strongly supports maintenance of the present level of funding for the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Your status as a member of the “Problem Solvers” caucus and as a member of the President’s Transition Team puts you in a unique position to lead support for restorative efforts for Lake Erie and all the Great Lakes.

Reports that the President plans to slash the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by 97 percent, and to cut funding to the EPA by 24 percent overall, are alarming. If unchanged, these plans will have a major negative impact on the economic development of the entire Great Lakes region of the United States.

Lake Erie is a jewel of our Congressional district, and a vital fresh water resource for our entire country. The Strategic Plan of the LED Committee places a high priority on the Lake Erie and Waterfront Development Cluster. It is a sector filled with promise for continued economic development, with its relationship to tourism, recreational and commercial fishing and boating, and the development of waterfront real estate in commercial and residential markets.

In 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives authorized five more years of Great Lakes restoration at $300 million per year through 2021. This was a wise decision. It provided funding to clean and safeguard the largest supply of fresh water on the surface of the Earth.

Bipartisan support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been strong since it launched in 2010, funding thousands of projects. Communities along the Great Lakes get their drinking water from the Great Lakes, and the Northern Chautauqua Regional Water System will be dependent on water from Lake Erie. Pollution from farms and sewers continues to threaten this resource. Nearly 500,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio, for example, had to go without tap water for three days in 2014 because of harmful algae blooms caused by manure and waste in Lake Erie.

Spending $300 million a year is worth protecting this incredible asset. Doing nothing would only cost more. Communities and private businesses have had to spend billions of dollars clearing water intake pipes and other equipment because of the zebra mussels that mass together. With 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in wages tied to the Great Lakes, Congress must act to maintain these Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds.

There is incalculable value in maintaining and improving on the massive improvement in Great Lakes water quality that has been accomplished (largely due to EPA initiatives and programs) since the EPA was created in 1970.

The Local Economic Development Committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation began in early 2011 as a volunteer group of business leaders. Since that beginning, the LED Committee has developed — for itself and for the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation — a position of regional leadership in economic development. This is being achieved in a way that complements the Foundation’s notable strengths in companion sectors of community development.

We are proud to add our voice to leaders throughout Chautauqua County, New York state, and the nation, in our support to maintain the present $300 million funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Richard Alexander is chairman of the Local Economic Development Committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation.


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