Our Great Lakes Are Battered and Need Help

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A bipartisan group is leading a push to shore up the Great Lakes which have been battered by storms, high water and widespread coastal erosion in recent years. The eight-state Great Lakes region accounts for a whopping one-third of our industry’s annual boat sales. 

Several relevant initiatives have been introduced in Congress to address the ravages of storms or to prevent future damages.

First, Ohio’s congressional delegation, led by Rep. Marcy Kaptur — who is also a co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force — is pushing to strengthen the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the largest annual environmental investment in the region. 

Created two decades ago and funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the GLRI addresses environmental problems due to pollution, invasive species, degraded wetlands, depleted fish stocks and the coastal resilience now being wrecked by the high-water levels.

Typically, water levels normally rise in the spring when rain and snowmelt fill the tributaries that empty into the lakes. After years of wetter-than-normal conditions that now seem to be the norm, levels have surged across the Great Lakes Basin triggering problems for most lakefront properties including marinas, boat yards, launch ramp docks and similar facilities important to boating. 

Most people likely don’t realize that the Great Lakes’ shorelines stretch farther than our Atlantic and Pacific coasts combined. Their waters — believed to be driven by climate change — have risen as much as 6 feet in less than a decade washing away houses, destroying roads and lots of critical infrastructure.  

“The Great Lakes are not only a prized natural resource, but a way of life that support communities and jobs throughout the region,” said Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell and Bill Huizenga. Earlier this year, House lawmakers passed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019, authored by Ohio Rep. David Joyce and backed by the state’s entire congressional delegation. That bill authorizes GLRI funding to $375 million in Fiscal 2022, then increasing $25 million per year until 2026.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee has recommended $320 million for the GLRI program but no action by the full Senate is pending. Perhaps one reason that the nation’s ocean coasts always get much more attention in Congress than the Great Lakes is because they have a larger, more powerful representation. Indeed, three of the four top leaders in the House and Senate are from the East and West coasts; even President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden reside there.

Given today’s realities, the GLRI is placing more emphasis on damage and erosion, trying to better predict the possible impacts of higher lake levels and greater wave action. Just last week, storm-generated waves measuring over 20 feet battered much of the Great Lakes’ shorelines. 

New York Rep. John Katko recently authored a bill that would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to study specific threats to coastal communities. It would require assessing the resiliency of the Great Lakes coastline with a focus on: (1) areas vulnerable to rising water levels and severe weather; and (2) lake conditions that contribute to coastal erosion, flooding, and damage to property and infrastructure.

PREPARE ACT Needed, too

Concurrent with the GLRI efforts, there’s the bipartisan PREPARE Act that would provide small businesses with low-interest, fixed rate loans of up to $500,000 to invest in measures to prevent damage from natural disasters. 

Officially called the Providing Resources for Emergency Preparedness and Resilient Enterprises Act, it’s a bipartisan bill to create a Small Business Administration Pre-Disaster Mitigation Loan Program to help small businesses take preventative action to bolster their infrastructure in preparation for future flooding events. The Marine Retailers Association of the America’s and the Association of Marina Industries are taking the lead in pushing these need acts.

“It’s more important than ever that we prepare for future flooding and protect our small businesses from additional economic hardship,” urge Reps. Joe Morelle (D-NY), Jack Bergman (R-MI), Jared Golden (D-ME-02), and Pete Stauber (R-MN) “Strong mitigation efforts are the key to our resiliency.” 

There’s no question erosion is worsening along America’s so-called Third Coast which includes New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

Conversations about this coastal erosion easily get drowned out by faster-moving news stories about hurricanes, tidal surges and flooding. Indeed, yesterday actually marked the official close of the 2020 hurricane season, which surpassed 2005 as the busiest on record with 30 named storms. 

Bottom line: There is no question the Great Lakes frequently gets lost in Washington’s national discussion on coastal needs. Accordingly, it makes it paramount for all marine trade associations and marina operators to aggressively pursue these needed acts by continuously and consistently communicating these Great Lakes’ needs to the members of Congress. 

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