Great Debate Ends: Champlain Isn’t Compromise Provides Funds, No Great Lakes Designation

Lake Champlain is all washed up when it comes to being a “Great Lake.”

An agreement reached Monday night between Michigan and Vermont Congress members makes it easier for Vermont schools to obtain funds to study environmental problems exclusive to the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. But it reverses the designation of Champlain as a Great Lake, which was signed into law earlier this month.

“We have agreed to call Lake Champlain a cousin instead of a little brother to those larger lakes in the Midwest, while accomplishing our goal of improving the ecology of the lake,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who initiated the campaign to dub Champlain “Great.”

“This is a win-win solution.”

Michigan representatives on Capitol Hill were thrilled to the gills Tuesday, especially Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who’d fought hard to knock Lake Champlain out of the Great Lakes club.

“It’s a great day for the Great Lakes,” said Upton, who frequently chided Vermonters about Lake Champlain’s 490 square miles, compared with Lake Michigan’s 22,300 square miles.

The agreement settles a dispute that boiled over about three weeks ago, when Leahy quietly attached an amendment to the Sea Grant Program authorization that made Lake Champlain the sixth Great Lake. President Bill Clinton signed the legislation into law March 6.

The dispute made for tongue-in-cheek joviality between Senate and House members from the states of the upper Midwest and from Vermont and New York, which touch Lake Champlain.

Neighbors of the five original Great Lakes questioned what America’s children would learn in geography lessons and noted an addition would play havoc with the traditional memory aid of HOMES, for lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. New Englanders pointed out Lake Champlain had inherited many of the environmental problems of the original Great Lakes and argued it deserved the additional funding.

Although congressional opponents have agreed to downgrade Lake Champlain, several steps have to be followed. The Senate amendment was attached to an appropriations bill. Upton will introduce a similar amendment in the House and seek to attach it to a highway funding bill. Each of those bills would have to pass and then be signed by the president before the Great Lakes change became official.


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