Obama 2016 budget: $69M for Great Lakes projects

The Detroit News

The $4 trillion budget proposal the Obama administration unveiled Monday includes more than $4.73 billion for the civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with more than $69 million for projects around the Great Lakes.

“The Detroit District budget of $69.8 million reflects the administration’s fiscal year 2016 annual civil works program and we are looking forward to working hard and fully implementing this strategic investment in the development, management, restoration and protection of the nation’s water resources,” Lt. Col. Michael Sellers, district engineer, Detroit District, said in a statement.

“Our projects and the water resources we manage produce jobs, facilitate exports, and contribute to a stronger economy, environment and quality of life for all Americans.”

The civil works budget funds the operation and maintenance program, which includes upkeep of the federal shipping channels on the Great Lakes, federal structures and the Soo locks.

The president’s budget, however, proposed trimming $50 million from a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a 5-year-old effort to clean up pollution, fight invasive species like Asian carp, and restore fish and wildlife habitats along the Great Lakes. About $1.6 billion has been appropriated for projects.

Last month, U.S. Rep. David Joyce called for extending the cleanup fund for another five years and spending $300 million a year. The Ohio Republican sponsored a similar bill that passed the House last year with bipartisan support but it died in the Senate.

The following is a fiscal year 2016 funding breakdown for Detroit District major projects included in the president’s proposed budget:

■St. Marys River/Soo Locks. Navigation/Hydropower/Recreation, $31.1 million

■Duluth, Minn./Superior, Wis. Navigation/Recreation, $6.6 million

■Detroit River. Navigation, $5.5 million

■Green Bay Harbor, Wis. Navigation, $2.9 million

■Saginaw River. Navigation, $2.8 million

■Fox River, Wis. Flood Risk Management, $2.5 million

■Milwaukee Harbor, Wis. Navigation, $1.6 million

■St. Joseph Harbor. Navigation, $1.6 million

■Muskegon Harbor. Navigation, $1.4 million

■Grand Haven Harbor. Navigation, $1 million

■Two Harbors, Minn. Navigation, $1 million

Officials said $16.1 million is earmarked for dredging projects, including the Grand Haven, St. Joseph, Manistee, Muskegon, Holland, Ontonagon, Presque Isle and Ludington harbors, and the Rouge and Saginaw rivers. .

Additionally, $3.8 million will be used to continue monitoring lake levels and water flow throughout the Great Lakes, while $100,000 is budgeted for the feasibility study to deepen the upper Saginaw River.

Industries that rely on the Great Lakes have been pushing for the federal government to fund a backlog of dredging projects at ports. Lake levels for years had fallen below their historical average, triggering worry for the boating industry, anglers, shipping industry and marinas. In 2013, Lakes Michigan and Huron set a record for the lowest mean average for any month since records were kept.

Now, the Army Corps predicts that Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie will be several inches above long-term averages in June. Lake Ontario’s level, which is controlled, should be right at its historic level.

But that shouldn’t stop dredging projects, said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers’ Association in January. “Projections have been wrong before, and the lake levels are always fluctuating.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.