A blue heron stands on a log in Lake Okonoka on Belle Isle. Rehabilitation of  Lake Okonoka is among the projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

A blue heron stands on a log in Lake Okonoka on Belle Isle. Rehabilitation of Lake Okonoka is among the projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Photo by Sean Work


Senators unveil bill to increase support for Great Lakes projects

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published August 27, 2019

 Sen. Debbie Stabenow, left, speaks during a press conference on Belle Isle in Detroit on Thursday, Aug. 22. Stabenow and Sen. Gary Peters, right, announced their bipartisan legislation,  which calls for a renewal of and an increase in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, left, speaks during a press conference on Belle Isle in Detroit on Thursday, Aug. 22. Stabenow and Sen. Gary Peters, right, announced their bipartisan legislation, which calls for a renewal of and an increase in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Photo by Sean Work

DETROIT — Both U.S. senators from Michigan, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, came together on Belle Isle Aug. 22 to formally announce a bill to renew the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and increase its funding.

Since 2009, the GLRI has provided funds to projects that help clean, maintain and otherwise improve the Great Lakes and other bodies of water that connect to them. 

“In Michigan alone, since (2009), we have been able to fund 880 different projects — $762 million we’ve been able to bring in to address invasive species, water runoff, tackling algae blooms and doing everything else we need to do for our habitat, wildlife and fish,” said Stabenow. “There were 108 projects in southeastern Michigan alone. … Six projects were funded or are being funded right here on Belle Isle, featuring $7 million of investment in those projects.”

The language of the bill, known as Senate Bill 2295, was written by Stabenow and Peters alongside Sen. Rob Portman, of Ohio, the Republican co-sponsor.

“What we’re announcing today is new legislation to continue the work and reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for the next five years, and to increase the funding,” Stabenow said. “Over the next several years, we want that funding to go from $300 million (per year) to $475 million. Why? Because the needs just continue. We are only at the beginning of doing what we need to in addressing (issues such as) Asian Carp and protecting our waters. We have so many new challenges related to water levels and other issues coming as a result of the climate crisis. We need to be focused on protecting our waters and the Great Lakes.”

Stabenow added that the goal is to increase GLRI funding by $25 million per year through 2026.

Peters said the GLRI funds are a good investment of Americans’ tax dollars.

“You see the success stories,” he said. “This is a program that has proven successful; this is not speculative. You can see the major changes that occur after this investment and the economic activity that follows. When you have success, and success related to something as important as the Great Lakes, you should do more of it.”

Both senators said they are happy to have bipartisan support for the bill and want to bring it forward for congressional approval in the fall.

“It is bipartisan, which is terrific; it’s just (a matter of) getting people to understand how much of a priority this is,” Stabenow explained. “We don’t know where the White House will be; my assumption is they probably won’t support this based on past actions, but if we can get this into a package with the appropriations bills, I think we can move it anyway. … Our hope is to do so this fall.”

Stabenow talked about the difference that GLRI funds have already made.

“All of the projects relate to things like water quality, restoring native fish populations, we’ve removed 200 tons of marine debris from Belle Isle alone, and we’ve doubled the number of farms involved in nutrient conservation and took 800,000 pounds of phosphorous out of the water,” she said. 

Representatives from several organizations that receive funding through the GLRI were on hand to show their support, including the Friends of the Detroit River, the Friends of the Rouge River and the Clinton River Watershed Council.

Anne Brasie, the executive director of the Clinton River Watershed Council, said she has seen firsthand the difference that the GLRI funds have made.

“Through this program, we have received $22 million in GLRI money,” she said. “We now have a river that is fishable and we have a thriving paddling community on the Clinton River. People are on the river every day when 10 years ago, you would never have seen a single kayaker or canoer on many portions of the river.”

The Environmental Protection Agency works with many of the groups that benefit from GLRI funding. EPA Project Manager Rose Ellison was present at the announcement and said that she was pleased to hear the level of commitment coming from Stabenow and Peters.

“I think it was great. It gives us a lot of confidence and we are allowed to plan future projects that take years to come to fruition, knowing we have this kind of support from the senators,” she said. “I just came from a project that has taken 10 years to clean up, and we need this kind of support to complete efforts like that.”

Stabenow said that people who want to show their support for the bill can contact her or Peters’ office, or contact their local House representative in Washington, D.C.

“Writing letters in support of the bill is important,” said Stabenow. “It’s also important for people to tell their stories about their experiences with the Great Lakes so we can share them on the Senate floor. Reaching out to House members in Michigan also is important; I expect them to be on board, but it can still be helpful.”

Both senators stressed the importance of the Great Lakes, not only to Michigan, but to the whole world.

“Next to our people, the greatest resource we have in Michigan are the Great Lakes,” Peters said. “They are crucial for recreation, create jobs, they provide drinking water for nearly 40 million people in the region, and we need to protect them for generations to come.”

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.