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Funding uncertain for future Great Lakes projects

A planned cleanup of Howard's Bay may have escaped the federal ax. But many other projects are in jeopardy if Congress doesn't restore funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

President Trump's budget proposes eliminating all funding for the initiative that has addressed legacy pollution in the Great Lakes.

With plans for a clean-up of Howard's Bay — a partnership among Fraser Industries, the city of Superior, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers — already in the works, Superior Economic Development, Port and Planning Director Jason Serck said those plans are not in jeopardy.

But President Trump's proposed budget released last week is raising concerns among many.

The Great Lakes make up 18 percent of the world's fresh water supply and 90 percent of the nation's water supply but the budget calls for wiping out all federal funding — $300 million — designated to clean up more than a century of environmental damage, which has taken a significant toll on the Great Lakes, according to a letter to the president signed by 47 members of Congress, including Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis.

"Since the initiative was launched in 2010, GLRI funds have been used to support over 3,000 restoration projects to improve water quality, protect and restore native habitat, clean up environmentally-impaired Areas of Concern, fight invasive species, and prevent beach closings," the letter states.

"The GLRI is a critical program that protects the Lakes and the environment that Wisconsinites love. I will continue to fight everyday to protect these critical funds and will work with the Trump Administration to make sure the president knows how important it is that these restoration activities continue," Duffy stated in an email response to the Superior Telegram.

"For the 30 million people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, health, jobs, and way of life, the Trump Administration budget is a total non-starter," said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters Coalition, a coalition of more than 145 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums. He said it's clear that Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois — the Great Lakes states — will have rely on leadership of Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who have worked together for the last seven years to invest in Great Lakes restoration projects.

"The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is showing real and measurable result, but there is still a great deal of work to do," the Feb. 17 letter states.

"We look forward to working with Congress to restore funding to these important programs to ensure that Great Lakes restoration remains a top national priority," Ambs said.

"The GLRI is a critical program for the Great Lakes region, the health of our communities and the protection of our clean water resources. It has invested $331 million for 416 projects in Wisconsin. It has helped the state combat the growth of invasive species like Asian carp and zebra mussels, which pose a major threat to the ecology and economy of the Great Lakes by devastating the food chain and causing major damage to our ports, pipes and water infrastructure. It has also helped our state clean up polluted sites and restore water quality in Wisconsin," said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

"The Great Lakes are a national treasure similar to the Grand Canyon, and it is not solely the responsibility of state and local governments to invest in their protection," said Mayor Paul Dyster of Niagara Falls, N.Y., vice chairman of the Great Lakes Cities Initiative. "Local governments already invest over $15 billion per year and rely on investment from the federal government for Great Lakes restoration and protection efforts."