Lake St. Clair plan would provide funds for restoration

Dec 7, 2012 Issues: Environment

Amid an invasive species explosion that is casting a dark cloud over the Great Lakes, officials say the future for restoration of Lake St. Clair and its tributaries has never been brighter.

Adam Fox, water resources planner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told The Macomb Daily that plans for restoration of Lake St. Clair are moving forward with the “near-passage” of the Lake St. Clair Strategic Implementation Plan, SIP.

“We continue to make progress toward the goal of comprehensive restoration protection of Lake St. Clair,” Fox said Thursday. “And the federal government will do what it can to help achieve those goals.”

Fox said stakeholders in Lake St. Clair include virtually every person, business or government agency in southeast Michigan.

“They are aware you can’t just charge forward and do it all at once,” he said. We need to a have “a goal in mind and persistently move forward with the resources available.”

Last week, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-MI, talked about the “near-approval” of the Lake St. Clair Strategic Implementation Plan in a letter to the sixth annual Binational Lake St. Clair Conference.

“I gave a briefing based on the work started years ago on the Lake St. Clair Management Plan,” Fox said. “The SIP has been in the works since 2007.”

Both Rep. Levin and Sen. Carl Levin wrote a provision into the 2007 Water Resources Development Act that called for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to lead a partnership of Lake St. Clair stakeholders in developing a SIP.

The plan was to come up with a list of specific projects that would allow the implementation of more than 100 recommendations in the management plan.

SIP’s priorities are: conserve and restore habitat; storm water management; identify and reduce sources of bacteria; use technology in protection and restoration of Lake St. Clair; and enhance the use of the St. Clair watershed.

Among the top restoration projects on the SIP list include: Upper St. Clair River Habitat Restoration; St. Clair River Shoreline Restoration; Roseville, Clinton, Harrison relief Drain Water Quality and Habitat Restoration; Restoring Fish Passage in Red Run Headwaters; Paint Creek Fish Passage Restoration; Harrington Drain Habitat Restoration; and Salt River Marsh Ecosystem Restoration, to name a few.

And according to Rep. Levin, the plan is expected to be approved before the new year.

“I am pleased to say that we are very close to winning approval for the SIP from Corps headquarters in Washington,” Rep. Levin wrote in the letter last week, which was read at the Binational Conference.

“The SIP will help focus the efforts of all Lake St. Clair stakeholders on the implementation priorities, and hopefully give some of these projects a leg up when it comes to federal funding,” Levin wrote. “Let me emphasize that the partnership of effort that created the SIP will continue to be essential as we move forward.”

Levin said a key aspect of the federal government’s continued assistance in the restoration of Lake St. Clair is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, GLRI, begun by President Obama.

According to Rep. Levin in his letter to the conference, during the last three years, Congress has provided more than $1 billion for GLRI.

“Some of the money has already been awarded to restoration projects in the Lake St. Clair watershed,” Levin wrote. “It is essential that Congress continue funding this vital program. In the House of Representatives, I have teamed up with Representatives John Dingell, Louise Slaughter of New York, Steve LaTourette of Ohio and a bipartisan group of 31 other House lawmakers to urge continued robust funding for GLRI next year.”

Fox noted it was “so important to have ongoing and continued funding for GLRI.”

“Levin, Dingell, LaTourette and Slaughter are with us,” Fox said. “We must do anything we can to keep the program going. Without GLRI it would be hard to keep the federal government involved with Lake St. Clair; and the Great Lakes Revolving Fund, too.

Rep. Levin said a major federal program that supports Lake St. Clair is the Clean Water Revolving Fund. “Since Congress created the Revolving Fund program in 1988, hundreds of millions of dollars in low-interest loans and grants have gone to projects that reduce water pollution in Lake St. Clair,” Levin said. “The Revolving Fund represents a vital partnership of effort between the federal government, the state of Michigan and local communities.”

Fox said since the fund began, “every year, money goes to the state to help create new pollution control upgrades to sewage treatment plans. There are interest breaks that are essential.

Levin said “now is not the time for Congress to cut $780 million from this program, as some on the House Appropriations Committee have proposed.”

Fox, meanwhile, said “some projects are lined up, ready to be implemented; some projects are under way.”

Fox said. “Approval of SIP does not preclude these folks going forward, but with SIP, Congress can feel more inclined to fund these projects and move forward.

“We need these ecosystem restoration projects,” he said. “It gave the partnership something to focus on. Now it can be looked at in organized and logical ways — which projects get the bigger bang for the buck.

“We went ahead and talked about that a lot,” he continued. “The projects that had greater impact on the lakes and rivers got a higher ranking. We wanted direct benefits. Like Paint Creek restoration, it is important but it is further up from Lake St. Clair, and we want to go after more immediate parts. These higher-ranked projects, like the St. Clair River Restoration and relief drains in Roseville, Clinton Township and Harrison Township, would provide the largest bang for the buck.

“Unfortunately, the SIP is coming to a head during Fiscal Cliff,” Fox said. “When funds were available it was like the River Nile, seamless and straight forward. Now with funds being tight on both federal and non-federal sides, we are seeking non-federal sponsors. We can now be partnered with cities like Mount Clemens, or Macomb County, and even Ducks Unlimited. It was passed in 2007 that the federal government can now partner with nonprofit organizations.”

To get things rolling, Fox said the Corps put in requests for additional funding “to kick start a few of the projects.”

“We don’t expect bags of cash ready for us,” Fox said. “If anything, we wanted to get a preliminary investigation in place and ready to go when they do come available. We want to keep the focus on implementation studies we have in place.”