Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 21, 2013

Editorial: State must find funding for beach testing

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — There’s a lot to say about a downstate lawmaker hijacking 65 percent of the state’s beach monitoring budget. And none of it is good.

Because Rep. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township, was allowed to shanghai $100,000 of the $152,000 the state set aside for beach monitoring to his own backyard, countless other Michigan residents likely won’t get their beaches tested for harmful levels of E. coli bacteria. The $100,000 will pay for a system that can instantly test lake water, instead of the 24 hours it usually takes.

This is power politics at its worst. Forlini reportedly slipped one line into a state budget act and he and Rep. Eileen Kowall, an Oakland County Republican who chairs the DEQ appropriations committee, redirected the funds.

As things stand now, until it finds a way to replace the state funding it has relied on for the past 10 years, the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay is out of the beach monitoring business. The nonprofit works with county health departments to monitor a dozen Lake Michigan beaches in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Benzie counties. It got $17,000 from the state last year; this year’s amount had not be set.

State Sen. Howard Walker of Traverse City took it in stride. “It’s some of the things northern Michigan is always battling,” the Republican lawmaker said.

Rep. Greg MacMaster said Kowall told him it was a pilot program to see if testing can be improved, but also blamed it on the federal sequester. The state Department of Environmental Quality laid it squarely on Forlini.

What taxpayers should also be raising Cain about is why Michigan, the Great Lakes State, which rakes in untold millions from tourists every year, set aside a pitiful $75,000 or so (the rest of the $152,000 came from the federal government) to ensure state beaches aren’t contaminated?

Is this for real? A miserly — in terms of the state budget, at least — $152,000? The state can spend that much on rubber bands and paper clips. To set aside such a paltry amount and then force counties, nonprofits and politicians to battle it out for every dollar is absurd. Tap the Pure Michigan money machine or some other slush fund (Gov. Rick Snyder’s “nerd fund,” perhaps?). Responsible leaders would spend whatever it takes to protect its most precious asset and never look back.

But if it works out that the Watershed Center can’t get taxpayer funding, here’s an idea: Ask the special interest groups and entrepreneurs who recently demanded Traverse City allow as many festivals as possible at the Open Space to underwrite testing of the water that is so central to their success — and their profits.