News Story

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Everyone Loves Federal Money

$2.4 billion in taxpayer money given to thousands of grant applicants since 2010

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee to give the state $475 million each year for five years as part of a grant program called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI.

When President Donald Trump proposed spending less on GLRI in 2017, both Michigan Republicans and Democrats criticized the idea.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee wrote an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, calling the cuts “a mortal threat.”

“For the sake of our livelihood, our jobs and our way of life, President Trump must reconsider his cuts to Great Lakes protection programs,” Kildee said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has identified many examples, however, of expensive GLRI projects that had little to do with directly protecting the Great Lakes.

Many of the grants were for pet projects that otherwise would not be funded.

For example, in 2010, Michigan State University received $1.5 million so researchers could work with health care providers to tell people about the risks of eating fish.

The Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians received $200,00 in 2016 to help its members grow more wild rice.

In 2015, the surface of parking lot by a Chicago beach was replaced with porous material, with the GLRI kicking in $88,777. The new pavement was meant to prevent 18,000 gallons of rainwater from flowing into Lake Michigan every year. By comparison, a four-feet tall swimming pool holds about 18,500 gallons of water while Lake Michigan holds has an estimated six quadrillion gallons of water.

Other GLRI projects have included:

  • $210,000 to “conduct an inventory of bees” within the five national forests in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • $250,000 to Calvin College to assess the “population, reproductive and health impairments in colonial waterbirds breeding” in Michigan.
  • $203,874 for Indian reservations in Minnesota “to evaluate moose and deer use of habitat sites designed and managed for the benefit of the moose.”
  • $581,851 in 2010 to help the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe write fish advisories.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has handed out $2.4 billion in federal funds for 4,706 proposals from 2010 to 2018. Congress has appropriated $300 million in both the current and previous fiscal year to pay for this spending.

“There’s a whole lot of money that gets thrown at the Great Lakes and it’s difficult to keep track of it,” said Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “There is always this idea that you need more. And anybody who ever asks, ‘What is this being used for?’ and, ‘Is it useful?’ then you want to poison the Great Lakes. There is not any more thought that goes into it than that. As long as you are spending more, you are doing good.”