Since the end of January, three bills have been introduced to garner funding for the dredging of Lake Michigan harbors.
The first bill, House Bill 4106, would allow funds to be diverted from the Natural Resources Trust Fund and used for dredging in Michigan lakes and harbors.
Representatives introduced the bill just as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was preparing to release the fact that the levels of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron fell below the lowest recorded level ever, since data started to be collected in 1918.
Lakes Michigan and Huron — considered one lake connected at the Straits of Mackinac — set their previous record in March 1964, when they stood at a level of 576.05 feet. Their average January measurement was at 576.02 feet, just a third of an inch below the previous record, but below it nonetheless.
"I think it's important, having met with people along Crooked River and Crooked Lake and in Northern Michigan, (to introduce this bill)," said state Rep. Frank Foster. "As the governor is getting ready to talk about roads, we want him to realize infrastructure is more than that. Waterways are an important part of transportation and recreation in Northern Michigan. ... Some of these rivers haven't been dredged in decades."
Foster, R-Petoskey, introduced a second bill, House Bill 4197, along with Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, which calls for $30 million to be pulled from a "rainy day fund," known officially as the Budget Stabilization Fund.
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, introduced a third bill, the same day as Foster's, that has requests identical to Foster's bill.
The $30 million would be immediately available for applications from municipalities requesting funds to dredge harbors or rivers, said Foster.
In this way, this bill is different from House Bill 4106 — the bill that would pull money from the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
"We believe (4106) would take a constitutional change, and it would go on the ballot," said Foster. "A vote would go to the people, and we might not see change for a year. These communities need to have these resources now."
Both Foster's and Casperson's bills have been referred to the Committee on Appropriations.
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Michigan lawmakers call for dredging funds
Dredging bills (February 8, 2013)