Governor Whitmer graces Glen Arbor, touts Great Lakes agenda

Photo by Jeff Smith / Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

“I was impressed with how personable the Governor was,” said Cherry Republic president Bob Sutherland after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spent Thursday afternoon, August 8, on Lake Street—first at Cherry Republic, then at the Glen Arbor Arts Center (GAAC), then on Lake Street Studio Stage where she spoke to the public about Great Lakes issues. 

“How good a listener she was and how interested she was in our issues and successes,” said Sutherland, adding that Whitmer took over Cherry Republic headquarters for the afternoon and “loved our space. So did her staff, daughter (Sydney) and new puppy (Kevin)… Hosting Governor Whitmer in our gardens, at GAAC, and Lake Street Studio Stage was one of my all-time highlights.”

Whitmer also appeared that morning at Grand Traverse Industries in Traverse City, and that afternoon at the Leelanau Indivisible annual picnic in Northport. She used her “up north” tour to tout her six-point Great Lakes 2020 presidential agenda, to which her fellow Democratic governors in Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also signed on. Together they are pushing candidates for the White House to commit to champion Great Lakes environmental issues—a politically-savvy move, given that states bordering the Great Lakes represent 25 percent of the nation’s electoral votes (the outcomes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania decided the 2016 election).

“We are fortunate to be stewards of 20 percent of the world’s freshwater: that comes with great responsibility to be the best protectors of the water,” said Governor Whitmer. “This is no time for us to be silent or polite or demure to someone at the federal government. It’s time for us to lead and to change the conversation.”

“This is going to be a litmus test for candidates (for president). Any candidates who visit Michigan, I’m going to ask them if they’ve signed onto the agenda before we roll out the red carpet for them.”

The Great Lakes governors’ six-point plan includes:

• address extensive water infrastructure problems the region faces by tripling federal dollars invested in the Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds to work on the $179 billion backlog of needed work in drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems;

• ramp up funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to $475 million per year to boost projects for coastal resiliency, toxic contamination cleanup, runoff pollution reduction, invasive species prevention, and restoration of wetlands and other habitats;

• fully fund and expedite plans to build new prevention measures at a lock and dam on the Des Plaines River in Illinois, and supporting strong ballast water rules, to help stop and control the introduction and spread of invasive species, such as the Asian carp;

• commit to help states meet nutrient pollution reduction in the western Lake Erie basin by 40 percent by 2025 with federal funds and new technologies to address harmful algal outbreaks;

• support federal funds for ports, harbors and critical marine infrastructure, including the Soo Locks reconstruction project;

• and push for increased federal action of both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense to address PFAS contamination.

The states that surround 20 percent of the world’s fresh water haven’t always worked together.

“There’s been more coordination among the Great Lakes states than there was in the ’80s,” said Dave Dempsey, a longtime environmental advocate and water policy expert who is currently the senior policy specialist at the nonprofit FLOW. “They work together knowing that the Great Lakes are one system.”