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Great Lakes cleanup, conservation money included in infrastructure bill

The bill passed the Senate, but must still clear the House.

infrastructure bill funding
A backhoe removes wood waste from Radio Tower Bay along the St. Louis River in Duluth, one of many sites in the Twin Ports where Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds have been used. The new infrastructure bill that passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday includes $1 billion for Great Lakes cleanup efforts, the most ever. 2014 File / Duluth News Tribune

The bipartisan, $1 trillion infrastructure package that passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and is expected to pass the House in September contains $1 billion for Great Lakes restoration efforts through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a huge increase over past funding.

The initiative aims to restore fish and wildlife habitat, reduce farm and urban runoff pollution, clean up toxic contamination, and manage invasive species, and for the past decade has been funded between $300 and $330 million annually.

Projects have been conducted across the Great Lakes, including several in the Duluth-Superior harbor, aimed at cleaning up or capping polluted sediments and restoring fish and wildlife habitat.

“This funding will be a shot in the arm to make our Great Lakes and our communities healthier. Federal investments to restore the lakes have been producing results, yet serious threats remain,” said Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, in a statement. “Poisoned drinking water, closed beaches, contaminated fish, and unaffordable water bills continue to impact people in cities and towns across the region, which underscores the need to address these urgent problems now, before they get worse and more costly to solve.”

Also included in the bill, which cleared the Senate by a 69-30 vote (with 19 Republicans joining Democrats) is $350 million to create a pilot program that will help fund wildlife-friendly roadway crossings to reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife; $250 million for the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program to improve access on Forest Service public lands and safeguard fish and wildlife from habitat damage caused by failing roads; and $400 million for WaterSMART grants, with $100 million set aside for natural infrastructure solutions to reduce the impacts of drought, create new habitat, and improve water quality.


“Making this commitment to habitat restoration, water quality, climate resilience, wildlife crossings, and road access on our public lands signals that Senate lawmakers understand the job-creating power of conservation and the foundational importance of outdoor recreation and natural resources in America,” said Whit Fosburgh, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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