REMARKS BY COMMISSIONER DR. PIERRE BÉLAND

INTERNATIONAL JOINT COMMISSION
October 20, 1997

Good Afternoon. My name is Pierre Béland and I am a Canadian Commissioner with the International Joint Commission. On behalf of the IJC and my fellow Commissioners from both the U.S. and Canada, I appreciate the effort all of you have made to come out to Belle Isle today regarding an issue that is of obvious importance to all of us -- the cleanup of the Detroit River.

Before I get into the specifics of our assessment of the federal, state and provincial government's progress to clean up the river, I want to tell you a bit about why the IJC has undertaken this project. In 1972 when the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the IJC was given the responsibility to assess jointly, the governments' programs and progress to fulfill their obligations under the Agreement and assist in its implementation. In 1987 the governments signed a Protocol to the Agreement which asked IJC to review and report on progress of Remedial Action Plans being developed for Areas of Concern, such as the Detroit River.

Well, after 10 years of reviewing and assisting in development of Remedial Action Plans in the Great Lakes basin, we were becoming concerned with the overall progress being made to cleanup these precious resources. Of the total 43 tributaries, bays, harbors and connecting channels in the Great Lakes that were targeted, to date only one has been restored. Several are making progress and our objective with this assessment process is to review the institutional efforts in place, identify the successes and obstacles we observe, and make recommendations based on successful experiences among these different areas. All this is being done to achieve our goal of enhancing and facilitating the restoration process.

In our experience, there are a few features that successful Areas of Concern all seem to share. These include:

I would now like to move onto the findings in our report on the Detroit River.

We began our assessment in November 1996. During this time, IJC staff, the other commissioners and I consulted with citizens and representatives of government agencies, local industries, municipalities and local non-governmental organizations. To gauge progress, our examination included the areas of funding, institutional structure, roles of the governments, jurisdictions and other segments of the community.

As I mentioned earlier, we noted several successes as well as some obstacles of concern. Some of the successes that have had beneficial effects toward restoration include:

Even though a few good things are happening in the area, there are several obstacles that the IJC has identified that have caused problems in developing and implementing cleanup activities.

The first problem and one of the most important issues especially on a binational waterway, such as the Detroit River is the lack of leadership. Lack of leadership by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has hindered implementation efforts. The state of Michigan, under a memorandum of understanding with the Province of Ontario, accepted the leadership role for achieving restoration of this binational Area of Concern. The IJC feels strongly that the state of Michigan should meet its leadership commitments or initiate discussions with the federal governments to ensure adequate leadership is provided.

This particular finding was released last June in our draft report and it seems as though this now might be happening. Just last Thursday, at a meeting in Lansing Michigan, approximately 60 top officials from Michigan, Ontario, and the two federal governments, such as Canadian Environment Minister Christine Stewart and Michigan Governor John Engler met to discuss the Detroit River.

Restoration of the Detroit River AOC requires that river cleanup become a high priority and be maintained as a high priority with elected officials at all levels of government. Locally, this has occurred on the Rouge River. Elected officials' involvement in the cleanup of the Rouge River has directly contributed to securing more than $600 million in infrastructure improvements to address combined sewer overflows and urban stormwater runoff. Although this ultimately helps the Detroit River, the same type of involvement and commitment is not shown on the Detroit.

It is recognized that the costs of environmental remediation will be substantial. But, local partnerships and financing provided by various sectors of the community should only be supplementary sources of funding and not substitutes for a strong financial commitment by the U.S. and Canadian federal, state and provincial governments. Current levels of support should be examined and financial support should be prioritized to reflect the importance of this binational AOC and accomplish effective remediation and restoration. Federal, state and provincial governments should demonstrate commitment to the Detroit River and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement by providing sufficient financial and human resources.

IJC review of progress reports provided to us by those responsible for restoration have revealed insufficient examination and evaluation of restoration options and priorities. The 1996 Detroit River RAP Report identified 104 recommendations, but currently no mechanism is in place to evaluate these options. However, I would like to mention that a proposed implementation structure has been prepared for consideration by the Detroit River Binational Public Advisory Council. If this is approved, this structure will identify implementation activities based on the recommendations in the Remedial Action Plan.

Remedial options to address contaminated sediments on the Michigan side of the river must be developed and implemented. We realize that currently there are only limited funds available and these should be invested in remedial actions that will provide optimal environmental net benefit, such as cleaning up contaminated sediment.

One obvious hole in the restoration process is the limited business and industrial involvement in the restoration process. Options exist to better involve business and industry. As restoration progresses, there could be considerable benefits from establishing a community partnership organization for cleanup of the Detroit River and its contaminated sediments. Such partnerships exist in different forms in Toronto, Ontario and in Ashtabula, Ohio that have been highly successful.

Historically, there was an extensive monitoring program for the Detroit River to assess water quality, estimate loadings, identify pollution "hot spots" and evaluate program effectiveness. Due to budget cuts and changing priorities, these monitoring programs for the Detroit River have been substantially cut or eliminated. Monitoring, assessment and research must be seen as a priority and should made a part of their core environmental program in order to evaluate program effectiveness and make mid-course corrections. The current efforts to monitor and assess the Trenton Channel should be expanded to the entire Detroit River ecosystem.

And last, but certainly not least, we feel based on our experience, that there is too little public awareness or acceptance of the need to restore uses in the Detroit River. Greater effort must be made to inform citizens, including school age children, regarding current environmental conditions and specific restoration goals. While undertaking this status assessment, IJC found no evidence of specific outreach programs directed at the most impacted subset of local population. In particular, more effort is required to inform subsistence fishers of the risks from the consumption of environmentally contaminated fish.

To summarize, incremental steps toward restoration have been taken. But because of the industrial legacy of the area, considerable environmental problems persist, particularly in regard to contaminated sediment. Due to the magnitude of the existing problem and the continued input of persistent toxic substances, extraordinary efforts and funding are required to enhance the restoration process. It is well accepted that a healthy economy requires a healthy environment. Both Detroit and Windsor are experiencing economic recovery after years of decline and it is understood that there are competing priorities for limited resources within the Detroit River Area of Concern. These are challenges that are being met by many communities from around the Great Lakes basin and are being overcome. By passing on information and successful methods of restoration we hope to assist this area in improved community awareness and restoration of your river.


Revised: 20 October 1997
Maintained by: Kevin McGunagle, mcgunaglek@ijc.wincom.net

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