Foster: Low water qualifies as emergency

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The Michigan Department of Natural Resources would get $30 million from the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund (MBSF) to help pay for harbor dredging this boating season under legislation introduced today by Rep. Frank Foster.Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are expected to reach record low water levels this summer, compounding years of receding shorelines and dried up federal funding sources.Foster said his bill to tap the state’s MBSF, or rainy day fund, is necessary as a one-year bridge so the state and federal governments have time to work with local harbor municipalities on a long-term permanent plan for dredging waterways to improve navigability.

“If a good portion of your town and economy is based on the boating business for commerce or recreational tourism, you definitely would see harbor dredging as an emergency situation this summer,” said Foster, R-Petoskey. “The state’s rainy day fund exists for drastic shortfalls that will affect life in Michigan – dry harbors fit that definition because the record low water levels and lack of past funding for dredging have a great potential to negatively impact shipping, commercial fishing, and recreational boating in the upcoming year.”

Last session, Foster helped enact fiscally responsible state government spending reforms to build the budget stabilization balance to more than $500 million during the two year period.

Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, has introduced a Senate version of the bill.

Other legislation that has been introduced to address harbor dredging in Michigan would allow the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to include harbor maintenance as an eligible grant expense. Currently, the program is only allowed to spend interest earnings from the fund for public land acquisition purchases and recreational facility development.

Another measure would allow the use of economic development funding captured by a Tax Increment Finance Authority in local business districts.

“Whatever the solution ends up being, all the possibilities including the budget stabilization fund need to be on the table for consideration so the discussion can move ahead quickly,” Foster said. “I’m encouraged that we have all these ideas to start the conversation going, but the time for talk will be over soon when our local communities need to have something ready to go when the ice melts.”

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has already concluded that below-normal annual precipitation and higher temperatures that increases evaporation have put water levels in all the Great Lakes below average. Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, however, are the lowest since record-keeping began in 1918 and a potential culprit is the dredging of the St. Clair River that has increased the water outflow toward the Atlantic Ocean.

A federal plan to slow the drainage would put a series of barrier “speed bumps” in the river, but it could be 2015 before funding for project construction could even possibly be considered.

Foster can be contacted at 517-373-2629; by email at frankfoster@house.mi.gov; through his online office website, www.RepFoster.com; or by writing to the lawmaker at State Capitol, Lansing, MI 48909.