U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow speaks during a press conference on Thursday near the Union Street Dam in Traverse City. Stabenow discussed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019, which aims to renew and expand funding for the Great Lakes.

TRAVERSE CITY — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow stood next to the Boardman River in downtown Traverse City and argued for expanded Great Lakes funding.

The senator Thursday said her bipartisan legislation to renew and increase federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is critical for continued efforts to improve and protect the nation’s greatest freshwater resource.

“It’s critical that all of us are telling the story of the Great Lakes,” Stabenow said.

She pointed to the coming FishPass at the Union Street Dam as an example of the projects supported through the GLRI. Her bipartisan legislation would renew federal funding for the program for another five years and return the funding level to its initial level.

The GLRI was initially established with a $475 million annual budget in 2010, followed by a couple of years of reductions down to an annual $300 million budget. The new bill would reauthorize the GLRI through 2026 and increase funding to $475 million annually by the end of the five-year extension.

Stabenow said she believes President Donald Trump’s threat earlier this year to cut federal funds for the wide-ranging Great Lakes cleanup program down to an annual $30 million may have helped encourage Republicans to sign on to this new bill.

“Republicans have been willing to vote for it but not to put their name on it before,” Stabenow said. “Everyone was assuming the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would be there and funded.”

The senior senator from Michigan and fellow Democrat Sen. Gary Peters announced the bill earlier this week, which is co-sponsored by 10 other senators from fellow Great Lakes states, plus 42 U.S. Representatives, 11 of whom are from Michigan.

The program focuses on some of the Great Lakes’ most longstanding environmental problems, including industrial toxic pollution, invasive species, runoff that causes algal blooms and wildlife habitat loss.

In Michigan, the GLRI has provided a combined $762 million for 880 projects, including restoring native fish populations in the Detroit River and removing 200 tons of marine debris from Belle Isle in Detroit.

In Traverse City, the FishPass at Union Street Dam is among the federally funded projects. It’s estimated to cost between $18 and 22 million.

Bob Lambe, executive secretary of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, said he can’t overstate the importance of GLRI funds to environmental projects within the Great Lakes. He said cleanup and conservation efforts are 20 years farther ahead than would have been possible without those dollars.

Lambe said the coming FishPass is designed to re-establish complete connectivity of Boardman River now that three upstream dams have been removed, but is meant to block invasive species from migrating up the river that connects to Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. He called it an “in-river laboratory” that could help address invasive species concerns beyond Traverse City.

“Solutions that we find here can be applied worldwide,” Lambe said.

Stabenow said she hopes the bill will be taken up and approved during Congress’ coming fall season.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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