A dispute over what really makes a body of water a Great Lake has moved to the U.S. Senate, where Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has introduced legislation to strip Lake Champlain of its recently awarded Great Lake status.
Members of Congress from Vermont and New York, which border the 490-square-mile body of water, successfully lobbied fellow members of Congress to add Champlain to the Great ones to make it eligible for federal environmental research funds.
President Clinton signed legislation elevating Lake Champlain to Great Lake status March 6.
But now there are howls of protest from members of Congress representing states bordering the original, much larger (and some would say real) Great Lakes - Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.
“We’re looking for a way to go back to the common sense, historical definition of Great Lakes,” Levin said Monday.
Levin introduced a bill Friday that strips the Great from Lake Champlain but still allows Vermont colleges to apply for research funds made available to colleges in Great Lake states. He said Champlain is more of a “cousin” to the Great lakes family.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., is pursuing a similar goal in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he has introduced legislation to take Champlain down a notch. And Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., introduced a bill March 10 that would erase Great from Champlain’s name but does not address the research funds issue.
The Senate Commerce Committee is reviewing the bills introduced by Levin and Abraham and Upton’s legislation now has 21 co-sponsors from Michigan and five other states.
Upton said Monday he wished Levin’s measure went further. Environmental funding is tight enough as it is, and any new colleges eligible for the Sea Grant program when it comes to Lake Champlain should be restricted to researching problems shared by Champlain and the other five lakes, he said.
Most of the credit - or blame - for Lake Champlain’s elevated new status is due to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has fought for nine years to gain the designation.