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Michigan Torpedoes Its Own Great Lakes Restoration Plan
Small Savings from Wetlands Repeal Would Be Swamped by Higher Flood Damages
WASHINGTON - March 10 - Just days after Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm unveiled an ambitious plan to restore the Great Lakes, she moved to knock out one of its main planks - the state's own wetlands protection program, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Even the small savings Gov. Granholm hopes to achieve by repealing the state wetlands law would be lost in higher storm and flood damage, concludes a new white paper by state experts.
In January 2009, Gov. Granholm released a grandly titled Michigan's Great Lakes Plan, Our Path to Protect, Restore, and Sustain Michigan's Natural Treasures which stressed the central role of her state's wetlands program, considered one of the nation's best. The final plan crafted after months of meetings and public comments urged not just the retention but an expansion of the wetlands program by -
- Restoring "500,000 acres of wetlands (10 percent of historic losses) and establish up to 1,000,000 acres of associated upland grassland buffers...by 2079, which will be the 100-year anniversary of Michigan's Wetland Protection Statute.";
- Within the next three years, increasing the rate of wetlands restoration by 50 percent; and
- Securing federal funding to support the "wetlands protection program within the MDEQ [Michigan Department of Environmental Quality]".
Despite these lofty New Year resolutions, by her February 3, 2009 State of the State speech the Governor was advocating that the state abandon its 30-year old wetlands law. This reversal came within the same month that President Obama proposed a half-billion dollar state-federal Great Lakes partnership.
"Restoring the Great Lakes is vital to the future of Michigan but to achieve that goal the state cannot just walk away from its responsibilities," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Governor Granholm knows better than to push a budget plan that is the equivalent of eating your seed corn."
A new white paper by the Michigan Stormwater and Floodplain Association puts the slight estimated savings from the wetlands repeal in perspective:
"The entire savings from eliminating the state's wetland protection act is reported to be 2 million dollars out of a 1.6 billion dollar deficit. The savings that would be generated by this proposal do not offset the loss of benefits that the residents of Michigan realize from having this permitting authority.... [Case in point] these additional wetland losses and increased stormwater volumes will lead to increased flood losses (property damage) for the residents of the State of Michigan." (Emphasis in original)
"Axing Michigan's wetland protections is the epitome of a ‘pound foolish' economy," added Ruch, noting that legislative hearings on the plan are slated to begin next week on March 17th.