TRAVERSE CITY — Long-awaited legislation that would protect Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has made a significant leap forward in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Dan Benishek, R-1st District, said the House Committee on Natural Resources approved a draft of the legislation today.
“We got it out of the committee today,” Benishek said. “It’s a major step to getting it passed. I’m very happy about it.
“I’ve been working on it for three years and its 12 years in the making … I’m optimistic because it’s important to our district,” Benishek said.
The legislation was introduced by Benishek and aims to designate about 32,500 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as wilderness area. A nearly identical bill passed the Senate last summer. The legislation is considered important to northern Michigan’s tourism industry. The park’s local economic impact is about $132 million annually, helping sustain about 2,300 jobs in the region.
Benzie County Chamber of Commerce President Mary Carroll said she was pleased with the progress, noting, “Its been a long time that we’ve been headed down this path, so it’s nice to see it coming to its conclusion.”
Benishek said he’s working with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to get the legislation to the House floor. Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent at the park, said the bill reflects the public’s desires for protections.
“Through a lengthy general management and wilderness study process ... we got a plan in 2009 that the public really liked (for protection), and this bill reflects that exact configuration of wilderness,” Ulrich said. “We are very pleased. This has gotten further than it ever has in the last three Congresses and we are very close to get a long-standing issue resolved in Sleeping Bear.”