Every turning point in the economic and cultural history of the Cities of Buffalo and Niagara have been defined by water, from their settlement as an integral part of a trade route around Niagara Falls, to the digging of the engineering marvel that was the Erie Canal, to the harnessing of the power of Niagara Falls for industrial use and to produce energy, and don’t forget, tourism. Now, this area, compelled by its connection to the Great Lakes is at the precipice of a new economy that incorporates restoration – and this makes it an ideal setting for the sixth annual Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition meeting.
“There is an absolute consensus from one end of the Niagara River to the other, from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, that as goes the water resources so goes the economy of this region,” Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said at the opening session.
This paradigm shift is the result of the work of this coalition – we leveraged the Brooking Institute’s report “Healthy Waters Strong Economy” in such a way that we were able to illuminate the economic power that the Great Lakes possess. People now grasp that this region’s economy and the health of the lakes go hand-in-hand. We have come a long way over the last seven years when this coalition was first conceived of as a Great Lakes Magnus Opus, according to Andy Buchsbaum, Co-chair of HOW.
“I don’t think any of us could imagine we’d be sitting here today, and seeing hundreds of millions of dollars would be going to Great Lakes restoration – on the ground – and that the health of the Great Lakes would be truly in our hands,” he said and then reminded us that when we started out six years ago, this nation was in a deficit, at war in two countries, the President (Bush) was indifferent at best, “but you said, we can do this. Over the years, this coalition has built a powerhouse with a comprehensive plan with Congressional support, with Presidential support and we no longer say we can do this we can now say, we have done this, but we are clearly not done. There is an enormous amount of work. This is the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.”
It took five years of deliberate education of Congress, persistently putting pressure on candidates and building strong partnerships with citizens, government, activists and businesses to get where we are today – and where exactly are we?
“We crossed the threshold last year,” answers Jeff Skelding, National Campaign Director for HOW. Last year, the President put $475 million into his budget for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Congress supported him by appropriated the full amount.
“The HOW Coalition was a primary force in generating significant new federal funding – $475 million – and more is to come. This is just an incredible amount of money for Great Lakes restoration in 2010 and I know a substantial amount of those dollars will find their way to Western New York,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
In fact, during the opening session, Cameron Davis, the Great Lakes Senior Advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, announced several GLRI grants that are going to the Buffalo-Niagara area. The entire state of New York can expect about $20 million in federal grants for GLRI projects.
Of those announced today, one will go to Buffalo Niagara River Keeper to help them fully restore the Buffalo River Area of Concern. Davis said that they had an impressive application, “it was very demonstrable…they used measurables that we want to see.”
Other grantees included the New York Department of Conservation to help homeowners and land care providers to ensure good water use and encourage the reduction of synthetic pesticides; the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe won two grants totaling $2 million to restore the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern and help lake sturgeon resurge.
“It is inspiring to see so many of you in our community and we applaud what you are doing,” said Mayor Brown, “I and my Administration will continue to partner with you in every way that we can.”
The morning session ended and the conference began with a thank you from Davis,”“Thank you for doing everything you do every day for the Great Lakes.”