Sequester cuts will hurt Lake St. Clair, Clinton River

Jul 2, 2013 Issues: Environment

Continuing budget cuts forced by the federal sequester would hurt efforts to improve the quality of Michigan’s lake and rivers, environmental advocates and government officials warned Tuesday.

Standing on the Moravian Road bridge over the Clinton River in Clinton Township, officials said programs funded by the Michigan Revolving Fund and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would suffer if Congress doesn’t halt the across-the-board spending cuts.

“Now we’re threatened with a budget in Washington that would double those cuts,” said U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat who represents most of Macomb County.

Officials said if millions of dollars in cuts are continued, funding for future public works projects and other initiatives would be jeopardized and hurt water quality across the state, affecting all residents and visitors.

“Clean water should never be politicized. It is (an issue) everyone can get behind,” said Eric Keller, campaign organizer at Clean Water Action.

Established in 1988, the Michigan Revolving Fund provides low-interest loans to help municipalities finance construction of water pollution control infrastructure, like sewers and upgrades to water treatment plants. Through October 2012, the program provided loans for 467 projects, totaling $3.9 billion.

Macomb County has borrowed more than $200 million from the fund to finance water and sewer projects, county Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco said.

The federal government provides 80 percent of the money that goes into the revolving funds for Michigan and other states, although states choose which projects get funded. Under sequester, federal funding to the Michigan Revolving Fund dropped from $60.77 million in fiscal 2012, to $57.46 million in 2013. Other states along the Great Lakes also received a 5.5 percent cut.

Levin said House Republicans have called for an overall reduction of 14 percent to clean water revolving funds. That could mean an additional $8 million blow to Michigan.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, established in 2009, works differently. Funds are distributed on a competitive basis and can be used, for example, to clean up toxic sediment, control pollution runoff, combat invasive species, restore wetlands, and conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Congress has appropriated more than $1.3 billion in GLRI funds to date. Sequestration slashed funding by approximately $16 million this year – down to $284 million. A 14 percent reduction next year would reduce the program by $39.7 million.

Jack Schmitt, political director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said sequestration’s impact on clean water programs could hurt the state’s $17 billion tourism industry.

Locally, Clinton Township Supervisor Robert Cannon and other township officials said cuts could undo the progress made in improving the Clinton River. Three branches of the river traverse Michigan’s most-populated township.

“That water isn’t Republican or Democrat,” Cannon said as the river flowed in the background, west of Groesbeck and south of Cass Avenue.

The township plans to use the Michigan Revolving Fund to finance improvements at two of the seven pumps in the southeast portion of the township that control sewage overflows during heavy rains. That project, estimated at between $6 million and $7 million and slated for completion by the end of 2014, is not expected to be threatened by sequestration.

However, improvements at the other five pump stations could fall off the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s annual priority lists if further cuts occur. Clinton Township Public Service Director Mary Bednar said officials hope those projects could be completed by early 2017.

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