BY KYLE DAVIDSON, MICHIGAN ADVANCE
ANN ARBOR—State and national lawmakers on Friday met with local advocates to celebrate environmental budget wins and clean up trails alongside the Huron River in Southeast Michigan.
State Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.) and US Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) joined members of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Huron River Watershed Council at Bandemer Park in Ann Arbor to outline key environmental investments in the recently signed $57.4 billion state general government budget for Fiscal Year 2024.
“The Huron River Water Trail is a significant amenity in this region. And many of you may not know this, but there’s over $50 million in economic value annually brought to the region by the Huron River,” said Rebecca Esselman, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council.
Next year’s state budget included $18.2 million to acquire and develop projects around river trails and land areas, including $502,500 for trail improvements in the Huron River trail area. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
“[The Huron River] supports nearly 650 local jobs and provides over 600 million in added property value to area residents. The river also provides over $150 million in ecosystem services. These are things like drinking water, flood protection, carbon sequestration. And this, just to relativize that number, is very similar to the annual economic value of a University of Michigan football season,” Esselman said.
“These amenities deserve meaningful investments from the state and we’re really grateful to Sen. Shink, who helped us advocate for this water trail funding,” Esselman said.
Alongside funding for rivers and river trails, Shink discussed additional investments in clean water infrastructure and water quality.
“This includes nearly $280 million dedicated to water infrastructure projects,” Shink said.
“Those dollars will go to local communities in the form of loans, grants and direct funding for water infrastructure. Replacing lead service lines, upgrading water treatment facilities and stormwater management systems are just some of the projects supported here with the help of federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act dollars,” she said.
Shink also highlighted $9 million in funding for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to support local conservation districts and regenerative farming efforts, which aims to support soil health.
Additionally, the budget includes nearly $40 million to address chemicals like PFAS, and address emerging contaminants that pose potential threats to human and environmental health, Shink said.
While all public drinking water from the Huron River Watershed meets the state’s drinking water standards, the state issued a “Do Not Eat” advisory for fish in the Huron River in 2018 out of concerns of PFAS contamination. This advisory was relaxed in 2022 for the section of the river where it crosses Interstate 275 in Wayne County to the river mouth at Lake Erie.
The state also issued a no-contact recommendation for the Huron River on Aug. 2, 2022, after Tribar manufacturing notified the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that it had released hexavalent chromium into the sewer which flows Wixom wastewater treatment plant, which discharges to the Huron River system.
The recommendation was lifted on Aug. 12, 2022 after DHHS reviewed samples of the water and determined that the levels of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, were below levels of concern for human health.
In addition to providing funding for environmental efforts, Shink also highlighted the importance of passing laws to make the most of these investments.
Alongside her previously introduced policies supporting clean energy and climate health, Shink said she was working to pass a bill—Senate Bill 228—that would repeal a law that prevents local governments from regulating one-time use plastics.
Senate Bill 228 was referred to the Senate Energy and the Environment Committee on March 22.
Shink also said that members of the House and Senate were working on legislation to strengthen Michigan’s polluter pay laws, which were the strongest in the nation before they were gutted under the administration of GOP former Gov. John Engler in 1995.
Before the trail cleanup, Dingell reflected on the work of her late husband, former US Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, who wrote and helped pass the Clean Water Act.
“Many people think he introduced it, or it got introduced because of the fire in Cleveland [on the Cuyahoga River]. Our Rouge River actually caught on fire more than 50 years ago,” Dingell said.
While John Dingell worked with Republican former U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg to secure funding to clean up the Rouge River, he advised against taking the Huron River for granted, Debbie Dingell said.
“We have to worry about keeping our water clean every day. Michigan’s taught the rest of the country about what lead in your water can do to a community,” Dingell said.
“We are speaking up for people for clean water. And that’s what the Legislature is doing,” she added. “That is what the bipartisan infrastructure bill is doing, that is what the [Inflation Reduction Act] is doing. Putting money into the state to help make sure we clean up our water.”
This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.
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