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Erie County and its Canadian counterpart in Hamilton, Ont., Wednesday capped three years of negotiations with the signing of an agreement to share the fight against pollution.

In County Hall ceremonies witnessed by federal, state and provincial officials, County Executive Gorski and Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Municipality chairman Terry Cooke formally launched a series of cooperative training and network programs linking the two areas.

"It makes so much sense to transcend provincial and state boundaries, and international boundaries, when we share a strategic position on the Great Lakes," Cooke said.

Programs already begun under the "Bilateral Pollution Prevention Partnership" agreement will focus on cutting back the amounts of pollution generated by communities in both areas. Hamilton Harbor, the Buffalo River and the Niagara River are all among the 43 "toxic hot spots" targeted by the International Joint Commission.

"The environment is not an American issue, it's not a Canadian issue -- it's a human issue," said Gorski.

High on the agenda will be efforts to share knowledge and programs developed in each region.

A locally developed sewer inspection training program has drawn the interest of the Canadians, and the signing ceremony quickly led to a tour of the Buffalo Sewer Authority's Bird Island sewage treatment plant -- where sewer authority officials briefed their Hamilton counterparts on programs and facilities.

In return, Erie County environmental commissioner Richard Tobe added, Hamilton-Wentworth is "doing some sustainable development training that we're very interested in."

"We've agreed that we're going to be cooperating on the environment, that the strengths of one community will be joined to the strengths of the other," he said.

Under the new pact, the communities will join to establish joint pollution abatement programs and training for both governments and the private sector.

Smaller local governments in both regions also will be encouraged to develop pollution prevention programs, efforts in publicly-owned sewage treatment plants will be improved, and joint forums will be held to promote managements plans for businesses and other sites generating small amounts of hazardous waste.

The signing was witnessed by representatives of the International Joint Commission, Environment Canada and the Great Lakes Commission. State Environmental Commissioner Michael Zagota joined the group after the signing ceremony, and Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Jeanne Fox sent a message of support.

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