March 28, 2005

Great Lakes, St Lawrence region mayors support organization merger to protect ecosystem

Mayors and heads of council from the Canadian Great Lakes and St Lawrence River region have added their support to a proposed merging of the International Association of Great Lakes and St Lawrence Mayors and the Great Lakes Cities Initiative into a single binational organization. At a meeting in Toronto earlier this month, they proposed that Canadian offices of the binational Great Lakes and St Lawrence River Cities Secretariat be set up in Toronto and QuÈbec City to support the work of the mayors and complement the U.S. office in Chicago.

A single organization, they noted, will expedite the implementation of environmental measures and will more effectively promote sustainable economic development and tourism on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Merging the two organizations will also streamline the process for municipal governments to work in partnership with other Great Lakes and St Lawrence River stakeholders.

As part of an overall agreement on principles, the mayors and heads of council pledged to continue working together to protect, restore and enhance the unique ecosystem of the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River. Their work will focus on issues with environmental and economic implications for municipalities including: water quality, waste water and storm water treatment, beach closures, algae blooms, water diversion, invasive species, shoreline restoration, water levels and waterfront redevelopment.

Moreover, the municipal leaders said, local governments are leaders and delivery agents with a responsibility to work in partnership with federal, provincial, and state governments to restore and protect the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River. They committed themselves to a number of strategies for carrying out this responsibility.

* Leadership and Action: Because municipal governments are closest to water quality issues and solutions, mayors must lead the way in designing and implementing Great Lakes and St Lawrence River initiatives.

* Education: Mayors are committed to educating the public, other elected officials, the business community, and others on the challenges and opportunities of maintaining the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River ecosystem.

* Co-operation: The mayors will encourage other local, regional, and national governments, conservation authorities and first nations groups, as well as business, agricultural and environmental organizations to work in partnership on Great Lakes and St Lawrence River initiatives.

* Best Practices: Mayors will build on existing regional and binational networks to share best practices and policies for preserving and cleaning up the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River.

The mayors and council heads also urged the federal government to build on its budget commitment to Great Lakes programs by extending this commitment to the St Lawrence River. They further proposed that the federal and provincial governments include mayors in the design and implementation of policies relating to the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River. In expressing their concern about the water resources of the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River, particularly with respect to water diversions and withdrawals, they stated that municipal leaders should have a seat at the table where decisions on Annex 2001 are being made.

Finally, the mayors and council heads expressed strong concern about the introduction of a blending by-pass policy under consideration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which would allow blending untreated sewage with treated sewage and releasing it into the sensitive ecological system of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence and connecting waterways. This type of policy, they noted, would contravene the focus of both the International Association of Great Lakes and St Lawrence Mayors and the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, whose mutual goal is to work collaboratively toward enhancing the ecological integrity, health and economic stability of these shared water resources.

The Great Lakes Cities Initiative (GLCI) was established in 2003 by Chicago Mayor Richard M Daley to provide a forum for cities to be involved in Great Lakes decision-making with federal, state and provincial governments. Mayor Daley and Toronto Mayor David Miller currently co-chair the group's 15-member steering committee. Through the GLCI, cities participate actively with international organizations, the federal governments of Canada and the United States, state and provincial governments, Great Lakes organizations, and environmental groups on environmental issues. More information is available at www.nemw.org/glci.

The International Association of Great Lakes and St Lawrence Mayors was established in 1987 by the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council. The association meets annually to make recommendations on protection, promotion, and economic development of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system.

At a meeting in Chicago in July 2003, the association and the GLCI agreed in principle to merge the two organizations. Completion of the merger is expected during the next meeting of the International Association of Great Lakes and St Lawrence Mayors in Quebec City in May. This will result in a new binational Great Lakes and St Lawrence River Mayors organization. More information is available at www.st-laurent.org/asso_mayors.htm.

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