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Environmental coalition calls $1 billion investment to clean up toxic pollution in the Great Lakes a 'game-changer'

Veronica Volk
Lake Ontario's shoreline near Rochester

An announcement this week about a $1 billion infusion into a Great Lakes restoration program is meeting with the approval of some environmental groups.

President Joe Biden said that the bipartisan infrastructure deal approved last year will see an investment of another billion dollars to help clean up pollution in the Great Lakes region. It will give a boost to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which was started in 2010.

The additional money from the infrastructure bill will help finish work on 22 sites in the Great Lakes region have were designated as among the areas that have been most degraded by pollution.

The ‘areas of concern’ include the Rochester Embayment, which is an area that includes the lower Genesee River and part of the shoreline of Lake Ontario.

A collection of environmental groups called Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition said that this investment will benefit millions of people across the region.

Director of the coalition, Laura Rubin, noted that many of the toxic pollution sites are in or near underserved communities and this cleanup effort should benefit them.

“That’s providing access to clean water and the benefits of green space,” said Rubin. “But we’re really hoping that these cleanups can help transform the communities, not only in terms of access to water and green space and cleaner drinking water, but a lot of these programs have the opportunity to train and engage local workforce.”

Rubin said that the $1 billion investment "will be a game-changer in the effort to clean up pollution that has poisoned local drinking water and threatened the health of communities."

In comments he made near the banks of Lake Erie in Lorain, Ohio on Thursday, cited a letter he received from Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur after an address last year to a joint session of Congress.

“That letter was about the Great Lakes,” Biden said. “(They) support more than 1.3 million jobs in manufacturing, tourism, transportation, warehousing, farming and fishing.”

On a related topic, Monroe County and the State Department of Environmental Conservation will co-host a virtual meetingon February 23  from noon to 1:00 p.m. to provide an update on the ongoing efforts to restore natural resources in the Rochester Embayment area.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.