Michigan Democrats promote climate resilience plan in wake of flooding

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

Detroit — Michigan Democratic legislators are proposing a massive spending plan on infrastructure after Metro Detroit's flooding earlier in the summer. 

The legislators met Tuesday at Manistique Community Treehouse to promote what they called a $5 billion Climate Resilience initiative to address flooding in Metro Detroit, which caused sewage backups, flooded homes and massive damage. No legislative proposal has been introduced, and no financing for the plan was outlined at the press conference.

"Now more than ever Michiganders know that we have to have bold solutions for climate resilience in our communities to protect our neighborhoods from flooding," said state Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit. 

Michigan State Sen. Stephanie Chang, center, D-Detroit, discusses a Democratic plan for investing in climate resilient infrastructure on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021 at the Manistique Community Treehouse Center in Detroit. Center President Tammy Black, left, and State Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, listen.

Chang was joined by Sens. Rosemary Bayer of Beverly Hills, Adam Hollier of Detroit, Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor and Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak, as well as State Reps. Abraham Aiyash of Hamtramck, Kevin Hertel of St. Clair Shores and residents of the Jefferson-Chalmers area to explain the infrastructure plan.

It includes $25 million in immediate flood relief, $1.5 billion for storm and wastewater infrastructure, $1.2 billion for upgrading drinking water infrastructure, $450 million in shoreline protection and restoration, $50 million for wetland mitigation and $500 million for dam safety projects. A press release said the Democratic lawmakers "are looking forward to working with all stakeholders and building support for urgent action on climate resilience."

But Republicans control the state House and Senate, where the plan faces an uncertain future. GOP leaders still are negotiating major portions of next year's state budget with the Democratic administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, has not seen the Democrats' plan, spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said in a Tuesday email.

But he noted House Republicans with the help of some House Democrats unveiled in May legislation dedicating about $500 million in new funding toward dam repairs and emergency response, a year after the Edenville Dam failed amid historic rainfall and years of neglect. The bills also would create an emergency response fund and a fund that would provide state match dollars for federal money to rehabilitate or remove dams. 

The office of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said that Senate Republicans introduced a similar bill in late June.

"The Senate Republicans introduced the Protect MI Water plan weeks ago to invest in stormwater infrastructure, improve our dams, and protect our drinking water," chief of staff Jeremy Hendges said in an email late Tuesday. "Michiganders deserve to have safe drinking water and infrastructure that can handle severe weather events. We would welcome the Senate Democrats support of the Protect MI Water plan as it moves forward."

The plan is designed to prevent future flood damage by requiring new and reconstructed infrastructure projects.

"Michigan is already facing increasingly severe storms which are overwhelming our water infrastructure, flooding our homes, and threatening our drinking water," Bayer said. "(We) must boldly invest our aging and clearly inadequate water infrastructure in order to mitigate the effects of climate change immediately."

The plan also seeks to update the 65-year-old Michigan Drain Code to prevent future rain and sewage buildup. 

Tammy Black, a resident of the Jefferson-Chalmers area and president of the Manistique Community Treehouse, said she's tired of dealing with the sewage buildup in her basement every time it rains. 

"I have anxiety and stress every time it rains. I'm running from my basement to the front of my house where my sewers are to make sure feces is not coming up from the basement where my children's two bedrooms were," she said.

Tammy Black, president of the Manistique Community Treehouse Center, talks about the impact of flooding in Detroit at a Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021 press conference.

Kathy Tobias is a 50-year resident of Ypsilanti and shares the same pain as Black.  

"When I hear at 11 o'clock on the news, 'Oh, there's going to be thunderstorms passing through tonight,' I don't go to bed until I know that it's calmed down and passed," Tobias said.

In the June 25 flood, Tobias said she lost her wedding photos and antique furniture that was stored in her basement.

Chang said bipartisan support is possible for the plan, noting a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan passed the Senate on Tuesday.

"I hope that that is a sign of the types of bipartisan work we can do together here in Michigan," she said.

The action Chang referred to being the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan passed by the Senate early Tuesday. Michigan is expected to receive at least $8 billion over five years for freeway and bridge repairs.

All of this coming just one day after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  issued a reported detailing that the Earth has passed the level of warning that world leaders were trying to prevent.