WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from the Great Lakes states are upset after discovering that a colleague from Vermont is trying to get Lake Champlain the same status as the five big lakes, as far as federal research dollars go.
President Clinton is expected to sign legislation soon letting Lake Champlain be considered one of the greats for purposes of competing for dollars under the National Sea Grant Program.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., got a single line inserted into the legislation to expand eligibility for that program's $50 million in grants for research of coastal and Great Lakes problems.
Word of the Senate-side addition did not reach the House until the bill was already headed for the president's desk, to the great annoyance of some Great Lakes dwellers.
"If Lake Champlain ends up as a Great Lake, I propose we rename it 'Lake Plain Sham,' " Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), cochairman of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, said last week.
He said he did not like the precedent of expanding eligibility for the National Sea Grant Program. "Next thing you know, Iowa's gonna want a sea-grant program because it's got a big old reservoir."
Champlain, though sizable, is puny when compared to the real greats. It covers 490 square miles. The smallest of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario, is 7,430 square miles.
Leahy is unapologetic, saying he inserted the language in the hope that it would help researchers in his state.
A side benefit, according to Leahy, is that the maneuver "gives us another foot in the water for acceptance of the lake alongside its sisters as a Great Lake."
"Vermonters have always considered Lake Champlain the sixth Great Lake," he said.
Not so fast there, senator.
"I know the Great Lakes. I've traveled the Great Lakes. And Lake Champlain is not one of the Great Lakes," said Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), the other cochair of the Great Lakes Task Force.
Glenn said Leahy's move is not going to change what America historically knows as its Great Lakes--Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior. The problems of all lakes need to be addressed cooperatively, he said, "whether they be great, good or somewhere in between."
Meanwhile, on the House side of Capitol Hill, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) was gathering signatures on a bill to reverse Leahy's move.
At the Sea Grant program's headquarters, executive director Fritz Schuler said extending eligibility to Lake Champlain would not necessarily siphon dollars from existing Great Lakes research.
"It's all a competitive process based on merit," he said.
The presumed beneficiary of Leahy's move, the University of Vermont, would have to clear a number of hurdles before it could land any funding. "We have, usually, way more proposals than we have money to fund," Schuler said.
There now are 27 Sea Grant colleges that conduct research into coastal and Great Lakes problems. Individual grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to those colleges have ranged from $700,000 to $3.5 million, Schuler said.