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American Heritage Rivers Event Jacksonville, Fla.

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
American Heritage Rivers Event
Jacksonville, Fla.
                        July 30, 1998

     Thank you, Don, for that kind introduction. And welcome everyone. I am delighted to be here -- on this glorious day, by this beautiful river -- to announce that today the Clinton-Gore Administration is taking a historic step to help communities across the nation restore our country's river heritage.
     I want to take a moment to recognize Charlie Bennett, also known as Mr. St. Johns River. As one of the longest serving members of Congress in this nation's history, Charlie is a true friend of the environment, a true friend of this community, and most importantly, a true friend to the St. Johns River.   His instrumental efforts have helped clean up and restore this great American river, and preserve its cultural and historical significance for future generations.  
     This morning, the President announced that he has selected 14 of the country's rivers as American Heritage Rivers -- from the tropical Hanalei [HA-NA-LAY] in Hawaii, to the urban Detroit River, to the river before us, the St. Johns -- Florida's spectacular "River of Lakes."     This truly is a historic event -- hundreds of communities and millions of Americans will reap the benefits -- targeted federal resources for local partnerships working to restore the economy, culture, and environment of these national treasures -- these symbols of our American river heritage.
     The President's American Heritage Rivers initiative is based on the notion that the best solutions for revitalizing our rivers come from communities themselves -- businesspeople, farmers and landowners, environmentalists, citizens, and government at all levels -- all joining together for
a common purpose:  to protect and restore the river in their neighborhood, and return it to a center of economic vitality.

     We believe this because a cleaner river -- and a restored and revitalized riverfront   is in everyone's interest. It means jobs. It means a thriving local economy. It means cleaner, safer, and healthier neighborhoods in which to live. It means better fishing, safer swimming, and overall, a higher quality of life for the millions of Americans living along the nation's rivers.
     My heartfelt thanks and congratulations to the people who live along the St. Johns -- and especially to Mayor Delaney, Senator Graham, Representatives Fowler and Brown, Governor Chiles, the Stewards of the St. Johns River and everyone else who played a part in the St. Johns selection as an American Heritage River. You've worked hard. This designation is well-deserved.     Since we passed the Clean Water Act more than a quarter century ago, we've made great progress for the nation's waters.
     Today two-thirds of our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters that have been surveyed are safe for swimming and fishing, compared with only one-third in 1972. We've prevented billions of pounds of toxic pollution from entering our waterways.
     But many difficult challenges remain. Many riverfront communities have not shared in the renaissance that others have experienced. These communities are held back by polluted runoff from urban, suburban, and rural lands. They're held back by abandoned industrial properties. They're held back by neglect and lack of resources.
     Right here in the St. Johns, polluted runoff has led to harmful pathogens in the water, a decline in sea grasses, a decline in water quality.
     Under the President's leadership, we are building a new generation of environmental and public health protection -- one that taps into the best this country has to offer, our creativity, ingenuity, and innovation.  We reward those willing to do more than just an adequate job -- to go further, to push the envelope, and to create new ways to prevent or clean up pollution.  And we forge partnerships -- between industries, governments, and communities -- partnerships that get the job done.
     The American Heritage Rivers initiative is borne from this new generation of protection. It is all voluntary and all locally-driven. It provides federal assistance and federal resources to support outstanding local partnerships -- people who put aside differences to focus on restoring and revitalizing these special rivers. It provides a "river navigator," a full-time person working in partnership with each river community to help cut through red tape, match resources to community needs, and help these riverfront communities realize their vision. It sets up a new network of shared information -- a helpful website with valuable information about our nation's rivers.
     The American Heritage Rivers initiative is government at its very best -- working together, responding to local needs, empowering communities to address their challenges as they see them, and helping these communities build the partnerships and get the tools they need to build a future of hope and opportunity.
     I grew up in Florida -- in Miami. I was raised on its fresh water, clean air, its pristine land and marshes. I often reflect on this area's fabulous quality of life. I marvel at the area's cultural diversity -- the many, many kinds of people who call Florida home.  All of this made up such an important part of my upbringing.  
     Just as often, though, I wonder what's in store for our children and grandchildren. Will
future generations be able to build a quality life in Florida: breathe clean air, drink fresh water, and get a good job? Will they be able to paddle a canoe along the St. Johns and watch a wood stork take flight against the sunset?
     Will future generations be able to draw sustenance from this river like those who came
before them:  the Native Americans, the settlers, the paddle-wheel steamboat captains, and the people of today -- the fishermen, boaters, shippers, birdwatchers, tourists, and residents who all are a part of this river's economic, cultural, and environmental heritage.
     We have reason for hope. And that hope is right here today, all of the citizens, officials, landowners, and businesspeople who've worked so hard -- in partnership -- to create a better future for the people who call the St. Johns River home.
     We had more than 120 very worthy American Heritage River nominees. The President's decision was difficult. But the St. Johns was a clear stand-out.
     The river is the longest in Florida -- 310 miles that drain one-sixth of the state. In fact, it has been called Florida's original highway. The Timucuan [TIM-U-QUAN] Indians traded along much of its length.  The St. Johns steamboats carried tourists and citrus to the port in Jacksonville. The river has a 400-year continuum of history including Native Americans, French, Spanish, English, African, and American settlements -- each imparting its own name to this
magnificent river: The River of Lakes, The River of Currents, The River of May, The San Mateo, The Rio de San Juan.
     Today, of course, it is the St. Johns: still a center of commerce and a transportation thoroughfare. The port in Jacksonville alone contributes more than 1 billion dollars to the economy and accounts for roughly 10,000 jobs. Commercial and sport fishing is a multimillion
dollar industry from one end of the river to the other.  And wildlife still abounds: fish, shellfish, and birds. It is home to the endangered manatee, and the wood stork and great blue heron.
     But what truly made the St. Johns nomination shine was its confluence of community
effort and civic leadership -- mighty forces all working for a common goal: economic prosperity, environmental protection, and historic preservation.
     Again, my congratulations to you all for the St. Johns' selection as an American Heritage River. But let me say, this designation carries with it a heavy responsibility.
     This isn't just about extra resources and extra staff. It is about the community working together, thinking beyond what you already have tried and tested, beyond what was thought possible, beyond your imaginations. This is about creating something new and different -- a showcase of river revitalization that the rest of the country can follow.
     Under President Clinton's leadership, we are standing at the threshold of a great renewal in this country.  We are proving that when we all work together, environmental and public health protection and economic growth go hand in hand.  You can protect both people and prosperity.
     On the St. Johns, great progress already has been made. Through the President's American Heritage Rivers initiative, let's continue the good work to bring new jobs, clean water, a greater sense of history, and a better future to people who live along this long and lazy spectacular River of Lakes.

     Thank you.