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Ohio Lake Erie Commission receives $5.8M

Award to fund projects in underserved Ohio Lake Erie Watershed communities

CLEVELAND, OH - May 30, 2024 - Ohio Lake Erie Commission (OLEC) has been selected as one of four recipients of the multi-million dollar Great Lakes Environmental Justice Grant Program awards, aimed at improving environmental outcomes in underserved and overburdened communities within the Great Lakes Basin.

The award is part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

OLEC will receive $5.8 million to develop and implement the Lake Erie Environmental Justice Grant Program. This initiative will be carried out in collaboration with Black Environmental Leaders Association (BEL) and Rural Action (RA) to ensure that historically under-resourced communities, from urban centers to rural areas, have increased ability to access funding to protect and restore Lake Erie.

“This grant enables OLEC and our partners—BEL and RA—to expand our reach and deepen our impact to ensure that underserved communities across Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline will be able to implement restoration and address water quality,” said Joy Mulinex, Director of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.

“We are honored to play a pivotal role in the transformative efforts towards true environmental justice that not only promotes equity but combats the disproportionate impacts of environmental issues on disadvantaged communities, said Jocelyn Travis, Board President of Black Environmental Leaders. “The partnership enables us to leverage our strengths to ensure that communities have direct access to the resources needed to protect and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem.”

“Over the course of Rural Action's 30-year history, water quality has been central to our vision of clean streams, healthy forests, and thriving communities,” said Joe Brehm, Chief Program Officer for Rural Action. “Water quality's importance to local communities takes many forms, with experiences that remind us that everyone deserves access to clean water. We’re excited to help facilitate water quality improvement projects that will positively impact underserved communities in the Lake Erie Watershed.” 

The Lake Erie Protection and Restoration Fund has used more than $13 million in donations from the citizens of Ohio for protection and restoration of Lake Erie since 1993. These funds, administered by the Commission, have assisted with dredge material diversion, cleaning storm water, improving public lakefront amenities, and research projects. This grant program will provide a template for the development of the new program.

Though there have been Lake Erie restoration and protection investments across the watershed, some of Ohio’s Lake Erie communities have been unable to access federal and state assistance because they face numerous challenges, including low-income populations, economic resource limitations, and degraded or aging landscapes that hinder ecological and water resource functions. The Ohio Lake Erie Commission will manage the administrative requirements that come with government grants which will allow underserved communities to focus on restoration needs. The grant funding aims to:

1. Address impacts from changing weather patterns;

2. Take action to ensure clean and safe water for Ohio’s underserved communities; and

3. Protect and restore waterways by administering funding for water resource protection and restoration to underserved and disadvantaged communities.

These goals address critical needs for restoration that through the grant funding and partnerships can be fulfilled, which will directly impact habitat restoration, increase aquatic connectivity, and Great Lakes education for Ohio.

OLEC intends to work with regional entities to offer two or three large grants and 10-15 small grants in three grant cycles. The sub-grants will offer funding to the many underserved communities in Ohio’s Lake Erie watershed and along Lake Erie including large urban areas of Cleveland and Toledo, smaller lakeshore urban communities in Lorain, Ashtabula, and Sandusky, and populations in smaller communities in more rural parts of Northwest Ohio.