8 Mich. lawmakers urge Obama to extend Great Lakes aid

Oct 1, 2015 Issues: Environment

Washington — Eight Michigan lawmakers have signed a bipartisan letter urging President Barack Obama to extend funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative into 2017.

Forty-six lawmakers from the House – 32 Democrats and 14 Republicans – signed the request to continue funding at the program at $300 million – the same level as recent years. The letter was organized by Reps. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak; David Joyce, R-Ohio; and Louise Slaughter, D-New York.

“We’re making real progress in cleaning up the Great Lakes,” Levin said in a statement. “Congress and the Obama administration must continue to work together to make Lakes restoration a priority.”

In addition to Levin, the Michigan signatories were Republican Reps. Candice Miller of Harrison Township, Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls and John Moolenaar of Midland as well as Democratic Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Dan Kildee of Flint Township and John Conyers Jr. of Detroit.

The Obama administration proposed cutting $50 million from the fund – a reduction of 16 percent – in 2016. House staffers say funding seems to be on track to be restored for the coming year, but concerns remain about funding for 2017.

The lawmakers’ letter noted a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office that found nearly all of the $1.68 billion allocated to the Great Lakes program was spent as of January 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies involved in the task force.

The money has supported more than 2,500 restoration projects involving water quality, habitat restoration, fighting invasive species, preventing beach closings and cleaning up toxic areas of concern.

“There’s still a great deal of work to do,” the lawmakers wrote.

At a House committee hearing on Wednesday, witnesses highlighted Michigan’s Muskegon Lake among a list of success stories, explaining the remediation of pollution and a degraded shoreline left behind after heavy industrial use and a century of neglect.

The community is developing bike trails and other tourism-friendly activities, and the shoreline restoration is expected to boost property values by nearly $12 million, according to testimony by Jon W. Allan, who chairs the eight-state Great Lakes Commission in Ann Arbor and directs the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes.

“It’s years of people and communities working hard to that end,” Allan said. “It is important that they feel the benefit of that progress. I will say, though, this would not have been possible under any circumstances without GLRI to promote that activity in communities that have waited decades for this kind of progress.”

Speaking before the House Transportation & Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, Allan urged Congress to approve formal legislative authorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to ensure the program survives into the next presidential administration.

Allan said the program targets resources to the most serious problems and has stimulated “impressive progress” over the past five years, including action to prevent Asian carp from taking over the lakes and targeting nutrient runoff reduction in watersheds to reduce algae blooms.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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