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Whitmer visits Marquette

Governor weighs in on roads, budget, Great Lakes

WHITMER

MARQUETTE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer paid a visit to the Upper Peninsula this week, making stops in cities such as Sault Ste. Marie, Munising and Marquette earlier in the week, and a trip to the U.P. State Fair in Escanaba slated for today, the final day of her three-day tour of the U.P.

Whitmer sat down with The Mining Journal on Wednesday to discuss a number of issues, ranging from the governor’s office she established in Marquette to funding roads in fiscal year 2020’s budget to Great Lakes issues.

Establishing an office in Marquette was important, Whitmer said, as she wants to ensure U.P. voices are heard.

“The U.P. has a special place in my heart,” Whitmer said. “I’ve spent a lot of time across the Upper Peninsula throughout my lifetime, and it is one of the most fantastic aspects of living in the state of Michigan. And I know that people in the Upper Peninsula have often thought they are overlooked or taken for granted, and it was really important to me that I have a real presence here.”

The protection of the Great Lakes, which surround much of the U.P., are a key issue for Whitmer’s administration, she said.

Enbridge’s Line 5, an oil and natural gas pipeline that passes under the Straits of Mackinac, has been a major concern for Whitmer, she said, as it poses a “a real risk to our Great Lakes, to our agriculture, to our tourism, to our drinking water,” and she believes “to keep the line in the water for another seven to 10 years while the tunnel’s being built is unacceptable.”

Enbridge’s plan to build a new pipeline through an underground tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac was adopted by Whitmer’s predecessor, Rick Snyder.

Whitmer wants to find a “solution that protects the water and ensures energy supply for people,” she said, emphasizing: “It’s not one or the other. It’s got to be both.”

Despite attempts at discussions between Whitmer and Enbridge about “what real terms would look like in terms of a date certain shutdown, as well as the potential of a tunnel,” litigation has developed, with Enbridge filing a lawsuit against the state and Attorney General Dana Nessel filing a lawsuit against Enbridge, Whitmer said.

While Whitmer said litigation isn’t the way she wanted to solve things, she anticipates a judicial determination on the matter by the end of the year.

Beyond the pipeline, Whitmer has been working with four other governors of Great Lakes states to ask all 2020 presidential candidates to embrace an agenda that provides more federal funding to protect the Great Lakes, she said.

“This is not about partisanship,” Whitmer said. “This is about protecting this incredibly important resource.”

The agenda includes increasing federal funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants, targeting invasive species, treating algal blooms, addressing PFAS contamination and investing in water-related infrastructure.

One of the water-related infrastructure investments in the agenda is the long-discussed new lock at the Soo Locks, as a six-month stoppage caused by a malfunction of the current system would be “devastating to our national economy,” Whitmer said.

In regards to plans for building the new lock, she said: “There’s reason to be optimistic there’s good work happening. I met with the Army Corps of Engineers and talked with our congressional delegation, I’ve talked with Donald Trump personally about this,” emphasizing “we’re going to continue to keep our foot on the gas and make sure this project gets done.”

In term’s of statewide infrastructure, fixing the state’s roads and bridges is a key issue for Whitmer’s administration, she said.

“People are frustrated with a crumbling infrastructure that endangers us and costs us a lot of money,” Whitmer said. “By not fixing the roads, we’re running up our bills to fix our cars, and they keep getting more expensive; and the conditions keep getting more dangerous.”

Due to this, Whitmer included in her March budget proposal a 45-cent gas tax increase to raise roughly $2.5 billion annually for roads, she said.

“I don’t like leading with the gas tax. I’m mad that I have to do this, but I also don’t like politicians that tell the people they can have everything and pay for nothing, or pretend that they’ve solved problems when they know darn well they haven’t been,” Whitmer said. “And that’s why I think it’s about time we’re honest with the public. I have gotten a lot of feedback about it, some negative, some positive. But at the end of the day, I think the people of our state are hardworking, honest people who expect the same out of their government. And that’s what this budget represents: an honest solution to the problems that we’re all paying for right now.”

However, the Legislature has been out of session for much of the summer and has not yet finalized the budget, which Whitmer said “has ramifications from municipal government to universities to school districts across our state that need to make budget decisions — and what the state decisions are drive all of them — and they’re totally paralyzed.”

With the fiscal year 2020 budget deadline of Sept. 30 fast approaching, Whitmer emphasized her administration will do all it can to avoid a government shutdown, as she feels it would negatively impact the people of Michigan.

“We will have a conversation about a continuing budget if we even get close to the end, but people don’t want half measures,” she said. “They want us to get the job done.”

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.