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Great Lakes Article:

Bay not likely to see federal cleanup funds
By Jeff Kart
Bay City Times Writer

The Saginaw Bay and other Michigan watersheds are missing out on opportunities for millions of dollars in federal cleanup money, local and state officials say.

President Bush is proposing to spend $45 million to clean up contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes next year under the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a five-year program that began this year.

But the Saginaw Bay probably won't be able to get at the money because of how the application process is set up, said Kristi Kozubal of Bay City, chairwoman of the Partnership for the Saginaw Bay Watershed.

That group was set up by the state to seek money for Saginaw river and bay cleanups.

"I'm totally out of the loop," Kozubal said. "I don't even know where I should fit into the loop."

The state Department of Environmental Quality doesn't have the staffing to coordinate with councils statewide, and instead focuses on getting funding for a few select projects, officials say.

This year, the state is applying for $7 million for three projects: In Muskegon Lake, the Detroit River and the River Raisin in Monroe.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will take applications to distribute the $45 million to Great Lakes states if the funding is approved by Congress, said Phillippa Cannon, spokeswoman for the EPA in Chicago. Congress approved $10 million for this year.

The $45 million proposed for 2005 would be enough to clean up an estimated four to six "areas of concern" in the lakes, Cannon said. One of those 14 areas in Michigan is the Saginaw river and bay, the largest watershed in the state.

But Michigan DEQ isn't including the Saginaw river and bay in its request to the EPA for funding this year, Kozubal said.

That's because the DEQ doesn't have enough staff to coordinate fully with the Partnership and the 13 other public advisory councils set up for each of the state's areas of concern, said Matt A. Doss, a program manager at the Great Lakes Commission, a binational public agency that works with area of concern councils in Michigan.

There are only two DEQ staff members to coordinate with the state's 14 public advisory councils; one of the two positions, assigned to Kozubal's group, has been vacant since December.

The councils have to coordinate with the DEQ because it's difficult to apply for funding; the process is highly technical and requires a 35 percent non-federal match, Doss said.

As a result, only some of the committees are able to get proposals submitted for funding, and Michigan isn't seeking and receiving all the money it could, Doss said.

"I think they are not being consulted with as efficiently as they could be," Doss said. "Opportunities to leverage funding aren't being sought as aggressively as they could be."

Kozubal said the local council hasn't even come up with a funding proposal for the Saginaw river and bay. Kozubal said her group is struggling to survive, with an active membership of only six people.

"It's dying a slow death," she said.

Richard M. Hobrla, chief of the Inland Lakes and Remedial Action Unit for the DEQ in Lansing, said Kozubal and Doss have a point.

The DEQ doesn't have the staffing it needs to fully support the funding program, due to state and federal budget constraints. But Hobrla said he doesn't think Michigan is missing out on funding.

"We have some frustration here, too, because we're asked for more help than we can provide in some cases," he said, likening the coordination process to triage in a hospital.

"We help the ones we think need it the most, but we're stretched thin, there's no doubt about it."

Charles Bauer, a DEQ water quality official in Bay City, said the Saginaw Bay could benefit from the sediment cleanup money being proposed by Bush. But Bauer referred questions to Kozubal.

A listing for the Saginaw river and bay on the EPA's Web site says contaminated sediments are among the major reasons the site is listed as an area of concern.

Contaminated sediments are a significant problem in the Great Lakes basin due to past discharges of toxic substances into waterways.

The discharges left behind high concentrations of contaminants in the bottom sediments of rivers and harbors, posing risks to aquatic organisms, wildlife and humans.

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