The Great Lakes are facing a bigger threat than the Asian Carp invasion. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — a program proposed in 2009 that devotes millions of dollars to the cleanup and preservation of one of the most environmentally contaminated areas throughout the country — is at risk of losing a large chunk of its federal funding. This proposal has created a stir among environmental activists. For Michigan, restoring the Great Lakes will greatly benefit the environment and the economy. Congress needs to ensure that funding for the Great Lakes restoration initiative isn’t cut from the 2011 budget.

According to a Jan. 16 article from MLive.com, in 2009 the Obama administration proposed a five-year program to cleanup the Great Lakes. In 2010, the federal government allocated $475 million to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. But this year Congress is considering cutting $175 million from the program. The program’s funding is divided among hundreds of programs in seven states.

The Great Lakes are an extremely valuable resource for Michigan’s economy, and this program is critical for future investments. Cameron Davis, senior adviser to the U.S. EPA’s administrator for the Great Lakes, said “the Great Lakes are an economic engine for this region.” According to a report by the non-profit Brookings Institution, the project would raise property values along the lakeshore by $12 billion — putting them at $19 billion — just by cleaning the toxic sediments in the Great Lakes region. Additionally, hunting, fishing and wildlife industries bring in more than $4 billion in revenue for the state of Michigan annually. Also, the industries based on the Great Lakes could provide up to $50 billion for the state economy in the long term. The Great Lakes are also a main tourism attraction in Michigan. If they become too contaminated, the state could lose that source of revenue.

Though the economic advantages speak for themselves, environmental issues also need to be considered. Due to toxic sediments, the natural habitat for fish and other wildlife has been greatly affected. Currently, there are two projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The first focuses on rehabilitating Portage Creek in Portage, MI. The second is spent on the removal of dams in Otsego Township and the city of Kalamazoo from the Kalamazoo River — one of the most highly contaminated waterways in Michigan. Mark Hatton, the redevelopment project manager for the city of Kalamazoo, said the projects will be finished in 2011 and that “there will be a huge change seen in this area.” It is imperative that there is funding for these projects to be completed.

While cutting programs seems to be the simplest solution to balance the state budget, it’s only a temporary fix. Decreasing funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative may result in more spending in the future due to accumulating environmental issues. Congress needs to remember that preservation of the Great Lakes is important for the state economy and for the well-being of Michigan residents.

The Great Lakes are undeniably important to Michigan. They bring in revenue, provide jobs and house a variety of wildlife. Congress needs to ensure that the Great Lakes are cared for before the damage becomes too severe to repair.

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