Members of the Grand Valley Metro Council recently gave the steering committee of the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds the authority to enact a membership fee.
“This is not the best time to do this,” admitted Brian Donovan, chairman of LGROW and East Grand Rapids city manager, of the economic circumstances around the request.
But Donovan said the agency needs the revenue to help it attract more grant funding for day-to-day operations and watershed-related projects, and council members agreed. So far, he said, LGROW has received six grants that total $1.6 million.
The Lower Grand covers roughly 3,000 square miles, and the agency wants to protect and improve the water quality of the lakes, rivers and streams that comprise the watershed.
“Whatever we do to Reeds Lake, we do to the watershed,” said Donovan of the link all the region’s waters have to each other.
LGROW has a fairly moderate budget this year of $32,300, the amount it’s hoping to raise in fees. Most members would pay $400 a year, while some would pay $100. Individual memberships would be available for $25 annually.
“We’re asking you to join us and become part of this group,” said Donovan. “We have businesses that we want to reach out to, and that includes the ag industry. We really need municipalities and counties to step forward and lead this effort.”
Walker Mayor Rob Ver Heulen and Algoma Township Supervisor Denny Hoemke both asked Donovan to give them more information on the membership fees so they can take the funding request to their respective boards. Ver Heulen said he didn’t want to go back to his city council and ask for a budget amendment, even if it would only be for $400.
Some council members felt the need for oversight, and testing of the region’s waters could become greater if Gov. Jennifer Granholm hands over supervisory duties of the state’s waters to the Environmental Protection Agency, which would take the state Department of Environmental Quality out of the picture.
“That should scare everybody. What I understand is it’s going to be a lot harder (to get things done under the EPA),” said Donovan.
Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula said Granholm is looking to the EPA because she tried to increase DEQ fees and add more employees to what she feels is an understaffed agency. But Stypula said her idea didn’t go over very well with lawmakers in Lansing.