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English Calls for Congress to Create Clean-Water Fund


After high bacteria counts closed more beaches this week at Presque Isle State Park, U.S. Rep. Phil English of Erie said he is backing federal legislation to help cities face water-quality crises.

The Clean Water Trust Act of 2005, H.R. 4560, would create a fund of $7.5 billion each year, and cities could compete for loans and grants to upgrade their sewage systems, implement clean water projects and improve utility management, said English, R-3rd Dist.

"The Clean Water Act's current funding mechanisms are failing," English said, referring to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972. "The federal government needs to play a greater role. This act will re-engage partnership between the federal, state and local governments to clean up our water."

The proposed trust fund could offer assistance in the future for residents like those of the Chapel Hill subdivision in Millcreek Township, which is in the process of replacing septic systems with municipal sewer lines.

The project, estimated three years ago to cost $12,000 per household, now is estimated at a maximum of $22,000.

In addition to addressing infrastructure problems, the fund would supply grants to keep regional bodies of water, like the Great Lakes, clean, supporters say.

English, who appeared at a news conference with Erie County Executive Mark DiVecchio and other local officials, said the money would "provide adequate research, improve public access to fisheries and create water sewage plants."

Water pollution has become a growing national problem in recent years. A report released this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council found the number of health advisory days and closings at beaches nationwide is on the rise - up nearly 5 percent between 2004 and 2005.

Officials at Presque Isle have not yet pinpointed causes for the E. coli bacteria closing its beaches, but English said the region's failing water infrastructure could be at fault, and money made available through the proposed trust fund could help.

"Clearly, there is a problem there that is needing to be identified and taken care of," he said. "These are the kind of flexible dollars that would be useful in devising a solution."

English said resources already were available at the federal level for the project. He and his co-sponsors have identified $111 billion in reduced budget deficit, and they plan to get specific revenues earmarked, he said. They plan to push the bill for consideration by the House of Representatives early this fall.

DiVecchio said he strongly supports the legislation because of water's importance to Erie's growth. About 4 million people visit Presque Isle each year.

"Our water is not only an economic asset, but a tourist attraction as well," DiVecchio said. "To continue to have economic, tourist growth, we feel this is very important."

Jerry Skrypzak, president of the Lake Erie fishing club S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie, also expressed optimism about what more funding could mean for Lake Erie.

"It will give the local and state governments a chance to look at the sewer systems and find solutions, and also give industry a chance to curtail their pollution," he said.

Skrypzak said there were sewage-related problems throughout Erie County, including systems that overflowed when it rained, septic tanks without appropriate outfall drains, and buildings whose sewage systems were not assembled properly.

"All that human waste is going into the streams," Skrypzak said. "Now that all has to go back and be fixed."

CAROLINE RUSE can be reached at 870-1687 or by e-mail.



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