Whitmer: Allot $150M in federal rescue funds for local parks

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LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday called for allotting $150 million in federal coronavirus rescue funds for Michigan’s local parks and trails, the second time she has proposed major recreation spending in less than a month.

If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would authorize the state to disburse grants. The governor said the spending on parks and recreation would boost tourism, particularly aiding seasonal and rural economies, and help sectors disproportionately hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make transformative investment in our outdoors spaces, and we ought to take it,” she said during a news conference at Connor Bayou Park along the Grand River near Grand Haven. It is one of roughly 4,000 local parks across the state.

The money could be used to make parks more accessible and to build playgrounds, basketball courts, pavilions and boardwalks, said Whitmer, adding that “we need our parks more than ever” post-pandemic. The funding also could improve and connect regional trail systems, including in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ottawa County and St. Clair County.

“Parks through the pandemic gave us hope, encouragement and health opportunities for all West Michigan visitors. … Our parks are busier than ever,” said Greg DeJong, an Ottawa County commissioner.

The Democratic governor last month proposed allocating $250 million of $6.5 billion in discretionary federal virus aid to state parks. She also has called for using the dollars to expand tuition-free assistance to attend community college to 22,000 additional frontline workers, to give grants to businesses to temporarily pay at least $15 an hour and to provide “hero pay” bonuses to essential workers.

Republicans who control the Senate want to direct $2.2 billion, or one-third of the recovery funds, to fixing dams, replacing lead pipes, and upgrading local drinking water and wastewater facilities. They also have proposed spending $1.5 billion to fix local bridges.

Whitmer welcomed legislators’ desire to modernize water infrastructure, noting that she announced a $500 million MI Clean Water initiative last fall.

“If the Legislature has some version of it that they want to work with us and get to my desk, I’m eager to move forward on that subject,” she said.

Lawmakers adjourned last week but are expected to meet for some days over the summer.

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