Lakeshore, Law, and Sustainability

Schuette says dredging plan cannot tap Natural Resources Trust Fund

April 23, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette  issued a formal Attorney General Opinion on Monday, stating that the Natural Resources Trust Fund, as created in the Michigan Constitution, cannot be used for the maintenance of existing public recreation facilities, including dredging of harbors.

Gov. Rick Snyder in late March approved legislation that provides $21 million for 58 “emergency” harbor dredging projects, prompted by the record low water levels in lakes Michigan and Huron. The plan included $11.5 million from the general fund and $9.5 million from the Michigan State Waterways Fund.

“The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund cannot be used as an ATM,” said Schuette. “The voters enshrined the Trust Fund in our Constitution for a very specific purpose: to preserve and protect Michigan’s bountiful resources for generations to come. The message is straightforward — hands off the Trust Fund.”

Schuette said there is another funding source that may be pursued in the future for certain public dredging projects, noting that the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act provides for “the use of funds in the Waterways Account of the Michigan Conservation and Recreation Legacy Fund for operation and maintenance of public recreation facilities, including the dredging of existing harbors.” Citing the law, Schuette said expenditures from the Waterways Account must be limited to public recreation facilities and “the primary purpose of the dredging must be to enhance access for recreational watercraft.”

Attorney General Opinion 7270 was issued at the request of Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh.

The Nature Conservancy issued a statement this morning applauding Schuette’s opinion.

“This was the right decision,” said Helen Taylor, Nature Conservancy’s state director for Michigan. “Attorney General Schuette realizes that using money the citizens have set aside for investment in natural resources is a key to Michigan’s future prosperity. The proposed legislation may seem like a good short-term solution, but ultimately, it could diminish the ability of Michigan to invest in key assets we need to grow our state.”

“The governor and the attorney general both understand that boating and the ability of citizens and visitors to use our Great Lakes is the lifeblood of many of Michigan’s coastal communities, but the Trust Fund is the wrong way to get this work done,” Taylor said.

According to the Nature Conservancy, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund approved by voters in 1984 uses proceeds from the sale of state-owned minerals to help state and local governments purchase lands of natural or recreational importance and develop recreational facilities for public use. However, the fund does not cover normal maintenance or operating costs of public recreational facilities.

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