Funding to rehabilitate the Great Lakes and revitalize area neighborhoods will continue — at least for the time being.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced funds were included in a spending package deal for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative as well as the HOME Investment Partnerships Program and Community Development Block Grant Program.
The bipartisan spending bill, which Congress plans to pass this week, establishes funding through the end of the 2017 fiscal year in September. President Donald Trump’s 2018 fiscal budget, which proposes various cuts, hasn’t been considered yet.
Efforts to monitor, preserve and rehabilitate the Great Lakes will go on as the bill maintains $300 million that the program received in past years. Trump’s 2018 proposal details a 97 percent cut to the program, which focuses on clean-up efforts, invasive species prevention and work to reduce phosphorus from entering lakes.
For Schumer and local officials, the securing of funds was a win for Lake Erie.
“We need to continue to protect New York’s most vital water resources — like Lake Ontario and Lake Erie which remains a top priority of mine,” Schumer said. “I am optimistic that this federal investment will allow for more fishing and tourism opportunities, which means new jobs and millions of dollars of revenue.”
With funding only established through September, Schumer acknowledged he’ll continue the fight to secure the highest level of funding.
Sherri Mason, SUNY Fredonia professor and Great Lakes plastic pollution researcher, said she’s glad to see funds weren’t cut for GLRI as well as the NOAA’s Sea Grant program. However, she said the spending package puts off the final budget until September when potential cuts could resonate again.
Mason is leading the research efforts on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Her research found plastic pollution in all five lakes. Further, approximately 75 percent of plastic skimmed off the lakes is between one-third and one millimeter in diameter.
“Given the current administration’s priorities, I fear this will be an ongoing battle throughout these next four years,” Mason said regarding future funding. “We can celebrate our minor victories as we punt the ball down the field, but we can never forget that the battle is still being fought.”
George Borrello, chairman of the Lake Erie Management Commission, said he was thrilled to see funding restored to continue the cleanup efforts on the Great Lakes and Lake Erie.
“That’s certainly the goal of everyone here is to continue the great work,” he said. “I hope the groundswell of support from all levels of government had an impact on the decision to keep that money in.”
The spending bill also includes $1.9 billion for water quality infrastructure projects and $863 million to support water systems and programs. Schumer said funding will address water and sewage projects that are long overdue.
“In any given year, we have hundreds of projects in upstate New York that are in need of funding, so I was proud to go to bat for this program to ensure that funding for New York was not scrapped or put on the back burner,” Schumer said.
The investments could be another piece to the funding puzzle for sewer extension projects around Chautauqua Lake.
The spending plan includes $950 million for the HOME program and $3 billion for the CDBG program. At the local level, program cuts as proposed by the president concerned city officials in Jamestown and Dunkirk. Without the funding, Schumer said vulnerable communities could have been devastated.
“This funding means local governments and communities will now have the resources they need to provide families and their children with safe and affordable housing options and continue the neighborhood revitalization efforts that are critical to local economic development,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, said he worked with House leaders and the White House to ensure funding was preserved for the GLRI, the CDBG program and the Appalachian Regional Commission, a regional economic development agency .
“It is important to care about prioritizing programs that directly enhance the lives of individuals across our region,” Reed said. “We worked in a bipartisan manner to create a fair approach to spending.”