Repost from the Sarnia Observer
[Editor: reading highlighted text for references to the Mayors’ efforts to stop crude oil train derailments, and the importance of local communities banding together on such matters. – RS]
Sarnia convention brings together mayors from Great Lakes region, St. Lawrence RiverBy Chris O’Gorman, June 18, 2015 8:11:34 EDT AM
The mayors of cities and towns dotting the coast of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence are in Sarnia for a three-day environmental conference where they announced “aggressive targets” for reducing phosphorus in Lake Erie.
A Lake Erie algae bloom last summer made city water unsafe for residents of Toledo, Ohio to unable to use city water for several days.
The event served as a “wake-up call” for all municipalities on the lake to pressure governments and industries to reduce phosphorus run-off, David Ullrich, the executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, said Wednesday
“In the minds of the mayors, this was really a game changer for us. We couldn’t be complacent anymore about algae blooms,” he said.
Phosphorus is a naturally occurring element is the byproduct of some industries and is found in fertilizers. When it makes it way from farm fields into bodies of water, it feeds toxic algae, sometimes creating blooms.
The city representatives from eight states and two provinces are hoping to introduce a harmonized system for dealing with algae blooms, similar to the one Toledo adopted after the toxic water disaster. They’re calling for a 40% reduction in phosphorus by 2025 in Lake Erie.
There are a number of items on the conference agenda on Thursday, including making oil transportation safer through the Great Lakes region , eliminating micro beads from consumer products, and discussing the future of energy generation and distribution.
“Our collective voice has never been more important. We’re facing a number of challenging issues that we will be discussing at our conference,” said Mitch Twolan, the mayor of Huron-Kinloss.
While it may seem as if initiatives like these involve a lot of policy documents and occasional finger pointing—one mayor said “we do send a lot of letters,” receiving a few chuckles—the collective of mayors has achieved much in just the last year.
At the last conference, the group decided to take action against “micro beads,” small plastic beads found in body washes, toothpastes, and other products. The beads accumulate in waterways and the bodies of animals.
Today, the city initiative has successfully lobbied six companies to stop using the beads in their products. Most recently, Loblaws said it would be phasing out micro bead products from its stores.The Lac Mégantic disaster will also be a major agenda item. In July 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed near the rural Quebec town of Lac Méganic and exploded killing 47 people. Deputy mayor of Quebec City, Michelle Morin-Doyle said the group is committed to improving oil transportation safety through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence regions. While the initiatives work may be slow sometimes and alone a city may be able to move faster, working with a larger collective means changes are permanent and far-reaching. “Because what it all comes down to is we want to make sure our citizens are safe,” she said. “The objective must be zero derailments. We cannot afford another accident like the one in Lac Mégantic.” From Wisconsin, mayor John Dickert of Racine said the environmental group prefers to speak with, encourage, and sometimes demand industries that create these contaminants stop, rather than dealing with aftermaths like Lac Mégantic. “The reason these are not small issues is… because businesses deal with these disasters on the day it happens. If their train derails, they’ve lost a financial commodity. Our people have lost their lives,” he said. “We are going to be very aggressive on these issues so that we don’t have to deal with it after the fact or deal with a parent who’s saying they just lost a loved one.”