Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 17, 2013

Downstate takes area beach monitoring money

TRAVERSE CITY A downstate Republican's $100,000 pet project for his neighborhood beach will starve more than 30 programs around the state that monitor beaches for harmful levels of E. coli bacteria.

The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay is among agencies cut from the funding loop. The nonprofit that works with county health departments relied on state funding for the last 10 years to monitor a dozen Lake Michigan beaches in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Benzie counties.

The Watershed Center received a $17,000 state grant this year to conduct weekly water quality tests at beaches.

"That's our entire budget. We don't have any other funding to do it," said Sarah U'Ren, program director for the Watershed Center. "So at this point, it's not happening."

Rep. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township, inserted one line in a state budget act that directed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to give $100,000 of its $152,000 beach monitoring funding to Macomb County for the Lake St. Clair Metropark. The funding will allow park officials to purchase equipment that will instantly test lake water for E. coli, a bacteria present in human and animal feces.

The current practice is to take water from the beach and have it tested by a lab, a process that takes about 24 hours, U'Ren said.

Area lawmakers said they weren't aware Forlini and Rep. Eileen Kowall, an Oakland County Republican and chairwoman of the DEQ appropriations committee, had redirected the funds.

"It's some of the things northern Michigan is always battling," said Sen. Howard Walker, a Traverse City Republican. "The numbers are higher downstate and we always have to stand up and make some noise to get our share."

Republican Rep. Greg MacMaster represents Antrim County, whose health department also lost funding for beach monitoring. MacMaster said he checked with Kowall who said the money was set aside for a pilot program to see if testing can be improved. MacMaster contends there would have been enough money if not for the federal sequestration, which cut funding across all federal programs.

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