Avon Lake officials travel to D.C. to oppose funding cuts

Avon Lake

By Nicole Hennessy

Avon Lake’s voice was heard in Washington, D.C., last week. Councilwoman Jennifer Fenderbosh and Avon Lake Regional Water’s Chief Utilities Officer Todd Danielson traveled to Capitol Hill separately, but on similar missions: to fight for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the availability of reasonable loans for infrastructure projects, or at least, to ensure the future of these programs.

President Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal called to cut the $300 million in annual federal funding the initiative has received since 2009.

The funding helps combat invasive species, remedy toxic waste, restore wildlife and native habitat, and
prevent toxic algae growth.

Congress recently approved funding for the initiative for another five years, but now that funding is threatened.

Both Danielson and Fenderbosch said, however, they were encouraged by the legislators they spoke with, that the Great Lakes remain an important issue.

In D.C., Danielson joined the American Waterworks Association (AWA) for the organization’s annual fly-in, while Fenderbosch was invited by the National Wildlife Federation to speak with legislators about lake-related funding and issues.

One of six members of the Ohio branch of AWA, Danielson and his peers were joined by representatives from 47 other states.

Danielson said his prime objective during his trip was “to request continued funding for the various loan and bond programs that are helping to save our customers tens of millions of dollars on our infrastructure projects.”

“With the president proposing his budget recently,” he added, “we also talked about the Great Lakes Restoration initiative to help protect our source waters and, really, the Great Lakes economy.”

This is the second time Danielson has attended this summit.

“There is definitely a different feel on Capitol Hill right now than there was when I was there six years ago,” he said.

“In many respects, representatives were very strongly stating that the president’s budget proposal is just that: a proposal, and it is Congress that does come up with the budget. And Congress is hearing very loudly from many people about the importance of things such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, so they were very happy to hear our voices and certainly want to make sure that the budget that does eventually get approved takes into account a variety of perspectives.”

On the other hand, Danielson said, he realizes there will be budget cuts. This is why he chose to fight so adamantly for the loan program.

After all, it is the availability of zero- or low-interest loans that make projects like Avon Lake’s sewer
separation thrive.

Of the restoration initiative and these low-interest loans, Danielson said, “They do significantly impact our economy.

Investment, for instance, in the water sector: Every $1 million in investment can create 15 jobs.”
While this fight for federal funding may not be over, it does not take focus off improvements that are still being made regionally.

For instance, the utility may be taking on a greater role with Great Lakes Commission in collaborating to account for nutrients in the Great Lakes.

The study of nutrients would determine the presence and impact of discharges into tributaries and the lake itself that affect nitrogen and phosphorus in the lake.

Fenderbosch said she was able to discuss initiatives like this and their importance as part of her defense for continued funding.

While she also has many unanswered questions and concerns, she, too, was put at ease after discussing lake issues and the restoration initiative with legislators.

“It is the most efficient commitment that the government can make to really help the health of Lake Erie, and to support tourism, fishing, recreation, improving the drinking water, and on and on, because that investment of $300 million, they have documented through studies that it generates more than $80 billion in benefits,” Fenderbosch said, citing recent comments made by Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R).

Fenderbosch said she was also encouraged by Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D) support of an Ohio “water infrastructure bill to increase flexibility for local communities.”

Reiterating Danielson’s comments that Trump’s budget proposal is nothing more than a proposal, she stressed the importance of staying engaged and guiding the decision-makers as they consider which programs they’ll cut.

Optimistically, she added, “Everybody’s for protecting the Great Lakes.”

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