State wants bacterial
monitoring of beaches but cuts grants for it
July 27, 2002
By David Poulson
LANSING -- At the height
of the swimming season, Michigan officials are eliminating
$150,000 in grants that some local health agencies were
counting on to help monitor beaches for bacterial contamination.
The cuts come just as
environmental groups released a nationwide report Wednesday
highlighting polluted beaches and the need to increase
And they are happening
on the heels of recent state legislation requiring public
beach owners to post whether a beach is monitored, an
action designed to encourage more monitoring.
"They say we ought to
be doing this and on the other hand they're saying they're
not releasing any money for beach monitoring," said Mark
Bertler, director of the Michigan Association for Local
Public Health. "This has stalled an initiative that should
be gaining momentum and resources rather than losing them."
checks for sewage overflows and other contamination that
can make swimmers ill. Some local health departments monitor
some beaches with local funds and close them if the contamination
is too great.
The state funds, which
have been given out the previous two years, were designed
to encourage more monitoring. The money comes from the
$675 million bond proposal voters approved in 1998 for
a variety of pollution control and cleanup programs.
But treasury officials
say the state's tight budget has made them reluctant to
take on more debt and perhaps threaten the state's credit
"More bonds will likely
be issued down the road, but there is no certain timetable
on that," said Terry Stanton, spokesman for the state
Department of Treasury.
Sixteen counties applied
for the grants that the state planned to award before
this summer. The awards were held up during budget negotiations,
but until this week the state had still planned to give
them out. Not every county would have received money,
as the requests were more than double what was available.
"The cold hard fact
is that these are tough times for the state," said Ken
Silfven, spokesman for the Department of Environmental
Quality, which administers the program.
The Natural Resources
Defense Council released a nationwide report on monitoring
Wednesday that noted that last year Michigan had 119 beach
closings, including three that lasted for more than two
That's down from 276
closings reported the previous year, but comparisons are
difficult because testing standards are inconsistent and
different counties monitor each year, said Cyndi Roper,
Michigan director of Clean Water Action, one of the groups
that released the report.
The report says that
57 percent of Michigan's beaches were monitored at least
once a week in 2001. It does not include data from this
The report, which is
on the Internet at www.nrdc.org, said there were at least
13,410 closures and advisories nationwide in 2001, compared
with 11,270 the previous year.
A DEQ Web site that
lists beach closings is a step in the right direction,
Roper said. But the information is often outdated.
The delay is in part
due to the 18 hours it takes for a health department to
process a test. But counties aren't required to post their
results on the site, and many don't have the funds to
input the data, said Shannon Briggs, who coordinates monitoring
for the DEQ. "The limiting factor with all this data is
are monitoring beaches this summer, down from 44 that
did it last year, Briggs said.