Michigan Democrats announce $5 billion plan for water infrastructure, climate investments


DETROIT — Several Democratic lawmakers from the Michigan House and Senate gathered in Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood Tuesday to announce a $5 billion proposal to address extreme climate events in Michigan.

They were joined by Southeast Michigan residents affected by severe flooding that hit the region this summer as they proposed spending $5 billion on infrastructure upgrades to storm and wastewater filtration systems, as well $25 million in immediate assistance to residents.

A June 25 flood was the most disastrous to hit Detroit since 2014. Less than a month later, another basements and vehicles took on water again after more heavy rainfall overwhelmed drainage systems.

Tammy Black, a resident of Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood and president of the Manistique Community Treehouse, where the lawmakers gathered Tuesday, expressed the frustrations of many struggling to clean up the damage caused by the flooding, herself included. Black said that she gets anxious every time it rains, as system overloads during heavy storms have exposed her and her neighbors to wastewater in their basements multiple times this summer.

“I’m asking leaders and people in charge of this infrastructure, please, don’t just go back to your nice homes where this is not happening,” Black said.

The living and dining rooms of Black’s home, where she would normally eat and spend time with family, are now used for storage because the smell of sewage from her basement is too strong, she said.

“We can’t even use our basements anymore,” Black said. “… The materials we’re bringing out of our basement smell badly. We’re putting them on the street, but before those things are moving, it’s spreading all over the community. Sometimes at night you’re smelling it.”

The plan unveiled by lawmakers Tuesday also cites the Flint water crisis and the Secord Lake Dam break that caused major flooding in Midland County last year.

The proposed spending would fund local planning and resiliency grants, dam safety, shoreline protection and restoration, lead-line replacements and clean water infrastructure grants. The plan also includes $25 million in of immediate flood relief for those who need extra assistance.

“We are proposing bold changes because that is what Michiganders need to address the decades of lack of investment in our water infrastructure. We need a strong, comprehensive, coordinated climate resilience plan for our state,” said Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit.

Read more: As floods continue to pound Detroit, the city’s most vulnerable residents face crisis

“Homes, businesses, and freeways have been inundated by severe storms, and it will only get worse unless we act with urgency,” Chang said, adding that the need for climate infrastructure and resilience policies have never been greater.

Kathy Tobias, who lives on Collegewood Street in Ypsilanti, where many residents were affected by this summer’s floods, said tax documents, antique furniture and photos from her wedding day nearly 60 years ago were lost after flooding hit the area in June.

While flood insurance covered the costs of Tobias’ washer, dryer and water heater, it didn’t come close to the amount necessary to make her basement usable, she said.

“We got a check from our insurance, but they said that it’s just for appliances. Well, there’s some things you can’t replace. Winter clothes and kitchen things of value that are just lost,” Tobias said.

Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said Republicans in the Legislature have shown receptiveness to working with their Democratic colleagues on infrastructure.

“They were very receptive to the proposed $25 million and we were told that we would reengage with that once we came back into Lansing,” Irwin said. “We’re hoping that they’re going to stay true to that commitment and we’re going to see some of that investment come through at least with our House Republicans.”

Democrats have had conversations with Republicans in preparation for the Environmental Great Lakes and Energy budget, he said.

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