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Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk's pollution video irks Fort Wayne officials

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 11:01 am

Fort Wayne officials took issue Tuesday with a video – posted by an Illinois senator – that they said smears Fort Wayne with overblown pollution stats.

The video, posted on YouTube by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's office and entitled the "Great Lakes Dirty Dozen," accuses Fort Wayne of dumping 7.5 billion gallons of sewage into Lake Erie's tributaries. City Council members watched the video Tuesday after hearing an annual update on the city's sewage overflow-control plan.

Justin Brugger, a Fort Wayne City Utilities program manager, told council the video exaggerates Fort Wayne annual sewage overflows by 6.5 billion gallons. Brugger called the video "patently false," saying it was meant to back up legislation sponsored by Kirk, a Republican, and fellow U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois.

"The information in (the video) clearly wasn't verified because it's just absurd," Brugger told The News-Sentinel.

According to Brugger, the city dumps about 1 billion gallons of sewage and storm water into the Maumee, St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers each year, with that total projected to drop by 90 percent through 2025 under a $240 million plan negotiated between the city and Environmental Protection Agency.

Several council members urged Brugger to challenge the senators, saying they were concerned about how the video could shape perceptions about Fort Wayne among businesses and individuals deciding whether to move here.

"It's important for us to be perceived, if we're going to be competitive, as being clean, green and progressive," said Councilman John Shoaff, D-at large.

Brugger said he first became aware of the video last year but decided not to denounce it publicly because he felt reluctant to engage in "political hyperbole." With council's support, Brugger said he would likely send a letter to either the senators or the video's producers to notify them of the city's complaint.

"We do intend to respond to this and let the senators, or those who produced the video, know the data in there is false," he said.

The video lists Fort Wayne as a worse polluter than Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit in 2011. The bill sponsored by Kirk and Durbin, called the "Great Lakes Water Protection Act," would impose big fines on cities that dump waste into Great Lakes waterways.

Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, who brought the video to council's attention, said it highlights the possibility that Fort Wayne could face more EPA-mandated spending even after completing the $240 million plan.

"It's an economic development issue and an issue that will affect our future spending," Harper said.