News Story

A Swimming Pool’s Worth of Parking Lot Runoff Not ‘Vital’ To Great Lakes

Millions from this $300 million annual spending pot go to pet projects, not critical ones

In 2015, Chicago’s Rosewood Park beach received a $88,775 federal grant to replace the surface of a parking lot with porous material. The intention was to prevent 18,000 gallons of rainwater from flowing into Lake Michigan every year.

To put that in perspective, a nine-foot diameter pool with four-feet tall walls holds roughly 18,500 gallons of water. Experts estimate that Lake Michigan holds six quadrillion gallons of water. That’s 6,000,000,000,000,000 gallons.

That $88,775 was part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program that funds hundreds of projects in the Midwest.

President Donald Trump has recommended scrapping most of the spending that falls under the program’s rubric, which sparked a series of media reactions predicting horrific consequences.

The Toronto Star implied in a Feb. 14 editorial that cutting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would lead to “the destruction of one of the world’s most significant fresh-water fisheries.”

Cartoonist John Auchter described the federal spending this way in a post on Michigan Radio’s website:

“Last year, the Trump administration budget proposed eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program to clean the lakes and protect them against invasive species.”

Michigan politicians have also weighed in, including Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican U.S. House members Mike Bishop and Fred Upton. Each of them released statements labeling this annual $300 million line item as either critical or vital for the Great Lakes.

While the GLRI does pay for some programs that protect the lakes, every year it also gives millions of dollars for things that have very little impact on them. Many are what would be described as pet projects for particular communities located in a region spanning from eastern Minnesota to upstate New York.

Some projects are tiny in scope. For example, in 2016 the GLRI paid $2,800 to have someone visit certain areas of Michigan and find all potential roosts of a species called Indiana bats so those trees are not removed. The particular bat has been deemed an endangered species.

Other projects funded by GLRI come with a much higher price tag.

For example, the Macomb County Public Works department was given $5.7 million for a project that was described as restoration of a habitat.

Part of the money was spent to restore a vacant golf course in Clinton Township to its natural state.

The GLRI also pays for bureaucratic functions within the organizations that receive its grants.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Quality received a $100,000 grant in 2016 to “implement its Quality Assurance (QA) Program.” That money was spent on maintaining a “quality data management program,” attending regional meetings and paying for training sessions for staffers. The federal dollars were also given so that staff members were “reviewing quality assurance project plans for all grants and cooperative agreements that include data acquisition, data generation, and/or measurement activities.”

The Conservation Resource Alliance, a private not-for-profit organization, received $762,000 from the GLRI so it could implement “Best Management Practices (BMPs)” to address “excessive sedimentation, channelization and inadequately designed and constructed road crossings” in lower Michigan.

And millions are given by GLRI to favored groups like the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. That group received $200,000 in 2016, in part to help it grow more wild rice. Some of the money was meant for studying why some areas of the Great Lakes produce much more wild rice than other waterbodies, and also for community education.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.