ROCK CREEK — U.S. Rep. David Joyce met Wednesday with regional and local conservationists to see firsthand the local effect of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which both the U.S. House and Senate have recently approved for its full $300 million appropriation.
Joyce met with representatives from Western Reserve Land Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Ashtabula County Metroparks — each of which own protected nature preserves in Ashtabula County and have received GLRI funding for habitat preservation or restoration projects — at the museum’s Grand River Terraces preserve, most of which is wedged between Mechanicsville Road and State Route 45 in Rock Creek.
“I came out to see all the good work these people have been doing on protecting and preserving these downfield streams, if you will, from the lake because ... the prevention that we’re doing here makes such a significant difference (elsewhere),” the Republican congressman said, referring to the inland watersheds’ effects on other water bodies such as lakes Erie and Roaming Rock.
“The GLRI allows non-governmental organizations like the conservancies, working with some governmental organizations, to maximize and leverage these dollars that we’re getting from GLRI in cleaning up our systems,” he said. “(Wetlands) are what I call ‘nature’s kidneys’ — that’s what cleans out all the (toxins) from the water.”
Western Reserve Land Conservancy received a $750,000 GLRI grant in 2015 to place legally protective conservation easements on 15 properties in the Grand River lowlands, which run from State Route 88 just past the county line to Harpersfield Dam and include five miles of the Grand River and its tributaries, according to Brett Rodstrom, Vice President of Eastern Field Operations for the conservancy.
More than 1,000 acres of those properties are within the Grand River Watershed — and 400 acres of those are wetlands — and home to rare, threatened or endangered species such as the massasauga rattlesnake, the eastern sand darter fish and the black sandshell mussel, he said.
“We leveraged the $750,000 we got from the GLRI grant to protect $3 million worth of property, which is a five-to-one return on the investment that the grant made for us,” he said Wednesday. “The land owners kicked in value and paid everything they could to make it work. We also used this grant to leverage other grants to bring to the table to make this happen.”
Using GLRI-leveraged grant money, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the Ashtabula County Metroparks to combat invasive plant species like buckthorn, Japanese knotweed, multiflora rose and honeysuckle across 180 acres of Ashtabula County’s Turkey Creek Metropark in November, said Larry Frimerman, Metroparks executive director.
“With funding sources like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, it multiplies our capacity to do critical things to enhance habitats and water quality so that we can contribute to enhancing the water quality and the experience people have on Lake Erie,” he said Wednesday.
Rodstrom said the GLRI makes up a “pretty big chunk” of the funding conservation organizations in Ohio receive each year.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History biodiversity coordinator, said Wednesday the museum and The Nature Conservancy together received about $800,000 for restoration projects at the Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve. It was the biggest single award for the marsh two years ago, he said. About $1.3 million has been raised for the marsh to-date.
Kriska said the marsh has caught fire three times since 2003, and without such “travesties” on the marsh or the famous 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River, federal conservation funding wouldn’t be as strong as it is today, he said.
“It’s huge. It’s half
the battle,” he said. “Every Congressperson along the Lake Erie shore ... they all fought for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and I can’t thank
them enough. They saw the value. They didn’t turn their back on the lake.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate approved the full $300 million appropriation for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — also passed by the House in July — despite consecutive budget proposals from President Donald Trump’s administration that reduced it to $30 million this year and nixed it entirely during Trump’s first year in office.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Joyce pinned those decisions on federal Office of Budget Management Director Mick Mulvaney, saying it was one thing to cut 90 percent of GLRI funding and another thing to zero it out.
“That’s not right. It’s an important asset. ... I tell people it’s not a lake or a series of lakes, it’s a national treasure,” he said, citing water quality concerns in California and Florida that are similar to Lake Erie’s.
Other Ohio lawmakers, including U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Democrat, have also pushed for the full appropriation, as well as Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan.
“Everybody can understand and appreciate it,” Joyce said. “Water, to me, is like the next oil. You’ve got to have it to exist and we need to make sure we preserve it for future generations.”