How Much Are Goldfish Worth? $4.3M If Called ‘Great Lakes Restoration’

Legislator wanted Michigan taxpayers to replace federal spending cuts

When President Donald Trump proposed eliminating $300 million in annual spending labeled the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, many politicians and media voices warned of catastrophic consequences for the nation’s largest bodies of fresh water.

The money is disbursed through hundreds of grants to state and local governments, universities, Indian tribes and others, often for activities that have little to do with the lakes. Previous stories here have described it being spent on better moose management in Minnesota, training Mohawks to write fish advisories and reverting an Ottawa County golf course to a “more natural state.”

Yet a Democratic member of the Michigan House of Representatives recently tried to backfill any reductions to this spending with money collected exclusively from Michigan taxpayers. State Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton, proposed an amendment to next year’s state budget on May 2 that would have allocated $37.5 million for this, mostly from state income tax collections. Pagan’s amendment failed on a voice vote.

A $4.3 million project in Chicago shows the tenuous relationship between these federal grants and the stated intention of restoring the Great Lakes. Approved in 2013 and scheduled to be completed by 2019, it would replace 162 acres of pond and marsh on the city’s south side with savanna and grassland riparian habitats.

One benefit of the $4.3 million project, as stated by Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry, would be exposing city children to a native habitat. McCurry also said in a local newspaper that the money could control goldfish and carp, considered invasive species, that were in the park’s lagoon.

Jackson Park is along the shore of Lake Michigan. The original park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted as part of the 1893 world’s fair called the World’s Columbian Exposition. It is also the intended site of the Barack Obama presidential library.

Spiffing up a Chicago park may have value for the city, but that project shows how far this spending veers from the goal of “cleaning up and maintaining” the Great Lakes, which many media stories and politicians claim is the purpose.

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Detroit Prep is a top-rated and economically and racially diverse charter school in the city. It's growth means it needs to move out from a church basement and into a new location. Nearby is a former Detroit Public Schools building, sitting empty for years. But, worried about competition, the public school district refused to sell. For years, district and local government officials in Detroit had worked to block public charter schools. They pushed legislation at the Michigan Capitol to hinder them, refused to sell to them, transferred surplus buildings from the district to the city government and imposed deed restrictions on property sales to private developers. All of it was aimed to hinder or even prevent charter school choice outside the confines of the Detroit school district.

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