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Great Lakes Article:

Senate water resources bill could benefit Great Lakes
Monroe News
Published May 18, 2007


The Water Resources Development Act, a bill that could have a far-reaching impact on the health of the Great Lakes, was passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this week.

Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, hailed the inclusion of numerous provisions that will benefit Michigan and the Great Lakes area overall.

"This bill will provide assistance for addressing a number of issues - including Great Lakes dredging and correcting combined sewer overflows - that have long plagued Michigan and the Great Lakes region," said Sen. Levin, who serves as a co-chairman of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force.

"It finally authorizes the completion of the dispersal barrier to help keep invasive species out of our waters, and it provides funding for many local projects across Michigan - from Lake St. Clair to Menominee Harbor - that will greatly benefit our communities."

The Water Resources Development Act authorizes projects for navigation, ecosystem restoration, flood or storm damage reduction and related purposes. Projects that would have a direct effect on communities within Monroe County include:

-Authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to study storm damage reduction and beach erosion protection projects along Lake Erie at Luna Pier. The shoreline dike system and beach sills that were installed at Luna Pier continue to deteriorate because they are subjected to Lake Erie's severe storms. This study is a first step in making the necessary repairs to provide adequate storm damage reduction, beach erosion protection, and flood prevention.

-Authorizes the corps to complete the dispersal barrier in the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal to prevent invasive species such as Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

For the complete list of projects, visit www.monroenews.com.

-Directs the Secretary to expedite the operation and maintenance of navigation projects in the Great Lakes. This provision, which is similar to a provision in the House bill inserted by Rep. James Oberstar, aims to address the very serious dredging backlog in the Great Lakes, which has resulted in ships having to carry reduced loads, freighters getting stuck in channels, and some shipments that have simply ceased altogether. The provision expedites the operation and maintenance, including dredging, of the navigation features of the Great Lakes and Connecting Channels for the purpose of supporting navigation.

-Authorizes $35 million for a statewide environmental infrastructure project to correct combined sewer overflows. Upgrading CSOs is a difficult and expensive challenge facing the state of Michigan. Because most CSO systems date back to the turn of the century and are located in older, densely populated cities, those cities with CSOs often have a declining property tax base, below average household income, and older water infrastructure systems. This important authorization will allow the Army Corps of Engineers to partner with communities throughout Michigan to improve their sewer infrastructure. These improvements are especially important to Michigan because sewer upgrades can also improve the water quality of the Great Lakes.

-Authorizes $20 million for the Environmental Restoration of Lake St. Clair. Authorizes the Corps to implement the recommendations contained in a comprehensive management plan for the environmental restoration of the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair.

-Authorizes the repair and rehabilitation of the Hamilton Dam located in the Flint River, in Flint, Michigan. Built in 1920, the Hamilton Dam is rapidly deteriorating and the prospect of dam failure and what that would mean to those living downstream continues to be a major concern. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has determined that this dam is in critical condition and could possibly fail in the near future. The Army Corps recommended replacement of the dam in a study conducted in 2000.

-Retains the authorization of the Ecorse Creek project located in Wayne County, which was originally authorized in WRDA 1990, and would help correct the flooding of Ecorse Creek. Last year, the Ecorse Creek project was included in the Army Corps of Engineers' deauthorization list. Ecorse Creek has a long history of flooding, which is expected to be a recurring problem unless corrective measures are implemented. In the long run, mitigation of the flooding problem would significantly reduce recurrent property loss and Federal disaster assistance expenditures.

-Authorizes the Corps to extend the commercial navigation channel on the Ontonagon River by 800 feet, and to deepen the channel to 22 feet. The channel extension at Ontonagon Harbor is necessary to allow for better access to Ontonagon's port facilities. Currently, there is only one vessel that can handle the required volume of material for Ontonagon's industrial community that will enter the harbor. Other ships have to back into the harbor to reach the dock and are unwilling to do so because of the prevailing currents at the mouth of the harbor. This authorization will help protect the vital shipping infrastructure in Ontonagon.

-Authorizes the Corps to reconstruct the harbor at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Michigan. The renovated harbor would support the operations of the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, our nation's only freshwater state maritime academy, and vessels associated with the program, including the federally owned and operated T/S State of Michigan. The project would include dredging, construction of an eastern arm, reconstruction of the inner harbor area, and general site improvements.

-Authorizes a project for navigation for both the outer channel and inner harbor of Menominee Harbor. Low lake levels, which have been prevalent in recent years, and present channel depth are threatening shipping vessels' ability to make deliveries and load at the commercial and industrial sites on the inner channel. This authorization will support commercial navigation by authorizing dredging and other navigation-related projects that will accommodate access to warehousing and commercial operations, which have loading docks on the inner river channel. The additional depth will benefit deep-draft commercial vessel traffic, which has increased over the years and is expected to continue to increase.

-Authorizes the Corps to dredge the Au Sable River in the vicinity of Oscoda. This is crucial so that boaters have access to local marinas, restaurants, and other businesses. Without this dredging, boaters could be prevented from accessing the river, which would be devastating for the tourism economy.

-Authorizes the Corps to make repairs and improvements to the Sebewaing River. The north bank of the Sebewaing River has deteriorated over the years, which is resulting in excessive sedimentation being washed into the river channel from the Saginaw Bay. authorizing this project and making the repairs, less frequent dredging will be needed.

-Authorizes a navigation and ecosystem restoration project for the Clinton River. The bill authorizes a project that would improve the water quality and natural habitat of the Clinton River. The project would also examine a means to "daylight" the Clinton River under the City of Pontiac. In past years, the river was enclosed in a series of conduits under the city. restoring the surface flow through the city, the river ecology can be restored, and economic development on the resulting waterfront be promoted.

-Includes a national authority to provide credit for in-kind contributions from non-federal sponsors. This authority can be used Great Lakes Fishery & Ecosystem Restoration program and the John Glenn Great Lakes Basin Program. In-kind contributions are a significant resource for Corps projects, and this language will bring parity to all Corps projects so that in-kind contributions may be used to satisfy the non-federal cost-share requirement.

-Expands the type of beneficial uses of dredge material projects. Amends Section 204 of WRDA 1992 to allow dredge material to be used for the repair and improvement of public infrastructure, public lands and other uses such as upland habitat restoration, topsoil creation, landscaping, land reclamation, capping, shore protections, beach nourishment, replacement fill and construction materials for in-water and upland scenarios. Dredging improves and maintains navigation channels in the Great Lakes and is used for other purposes such as waterfront construction, utilities placement and environmental remediation.

-Increases the authorized level of funding for two national programs used to restore and improve the quality of the environment and ecosystem functions. These two programs are currently both authorized at $25 million. The bill raises the authorization for Section 206 to $75 million and Section 1135 to $50 million. The Corps has used Sections 206 and 1135 for projects throughout the Great Lakes to restore and protect the environment, and several sea lamprey dispersal barriers are being designed using this authority. Because the construction and operation of some civil works projects may adversely impact the quality of the environment, Congress authorized the Corps to restore or improve the quality of the environment and ecosystem functions impaired by these projects.

-Clarifies the cost sharing arrangements of the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration program. This language clarifies that a reconnaissance study is to be done at full federal expense under a program created in WRDA 2000 in which the Corps cooperates with other agencies to plan, implement and evaluate projects supporting the restoration of the fishery, ecosystem and beneficial uses of the Great Lakes.

-Reauthorizes the Great Lakes Remedial Action Plans and Sediment Remediation program. Under the Great Lakes Remedial Action Plans and Sediment Remediation Program the Corps provides technical support to states and Remedial Action Plan committees so that the United States can meet international obligations. Through the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the United States and Canada agreed to develop remedial action plans (RAPs) for each of the 43 internationally recognized areas of concern, 26 of which are wholly located in the United States. RAPs embody a comprehensive ecosystem approach to restoring and protecting beneficial uses and to identifying specific actions to resolve pollution problems. The Corps' authorization is extended to 2011.

-Reauthorizes the Great Lakes Tributary Models Program. The authorization of the Great Lakes Sediment Management Program, which calls for the Corps to develop sediment transport models for Great Lakes tributaries, is extended to 2011. These computer models simulate the erosion, transport and deposit of sediments within a watershed and can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of soil conservation and measures on sediments and sediment contaminants in Great Lakes harbors and navigation channels.

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