Peters, Johnson Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Great Lakes Communities Address Rising Water Levels, Shoreline Erosion

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation to provide support for local communities facing rising water levels, coastal erosion, and flooding that have put homes and property at risk, and caused millions of dollars in damages. The Great Lakes are expected to hit record high-water levels this year, and communities in Michigan and Wisconsin are facing serious shoreline erosion challenges that have destroyed homes and beaches and have even forced residents to relocate. Peters’ and Johnson’s bipartisan bill would establish loans that local governments could access to help mitigate the impact of rising water levels, coastal erosion and other damage caused by natural disasters in a more cost-effective way. Studies have shown that resilience and mitigation spending saves taxpayers more than $6 for every dollar invested.

U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and James Lankford (R-OK) cosponsored the legislation. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the legislation this week. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“Rising water levels in the Great Lakes are wreaking havoc on Michigan’s coastal communities – threatening countless homes and causing tremendous damage to both public and private property,” said Senator Peters. “As water levels continue to rise and coastlines continue to erode, it’s vital that our communities have access to the resources necessary to prepare for and protect against potential disasters. This commonsense bill will provide low-interest loans to counties and cities to address shoreline erosion, save taxpayer dollars and protect local home and business owners’ properties, as well as Michigan’s beautiful coastlines. We need as many tools as possible to help mitigate against the effects of these disasters.”

“I have seen firsthand how the coastlines in Michigan have been devastated by flooding and erosion as a result of record high Great Lakes water levels. Our bill provides local governments in Michigan with additional resources to address this issue. I want to thank Senator Peters for his leadership to get this bipartisan bill passed in committee. This is the type of investment local officials and residents I recently met with said would help. I will continue to work with them to ensure our coastal communities have what they need,” said Senator Stabenow.

“FEMA continues to highlight that every $1 spent on mitigating disasters before they take place, saves $6 down the road,” said Senator Lankford. “That’s why it’s important that we invest in mitigation projects on the front end, instead of waiting for disasters to strike. The STORM Act establishes a new grant program that will distribute loans to states for mitigation projects. The bill will also continuously create revenue for additional mitigation projects by directing the interest paid on the loan back to the state for disaster mitigation projects. Only counties with mitigation plans in place will be eligible to receive these funds, which are capped at $5 million to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure the funds are reserved for only smaller-scale mitigation projects like those typically in Oklahoma. Along with the HELP Act, which I introduced in February to speed up the buyout process, I am glad to partner with my colleagues on this bipartisan legislation to address other challenges facing FEMA and disaster victims to help make disaster recovery more efficient and fiscally responsible.”

The Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation (STORM) Act of 2020 would allow FEMA to help states establish revolving loan funds that could be used by local governments to carry out mitigation projects that reduce natural disaster risk, including shoreline erosion and rising water levels. Unlike existing FEMA grants, these low-interest loans would allow local governments to invest in resiliency and mitigation projects that help reduce loss of life and property, the cost of insurance, and disaster recovery payments. These loans would reach the communities more quickly than FEMA’s traditional grants and provide local communities with capital necessary to invest in more resilient infrastructure.

The Army Corps of Engineers expects the Great Lakes to hit record-high water levels in the coming months, which intensify the impacts of high winds and contribute to shoreline erosion. Along the Great Lakes, rising water levels have already flooded campgrounds and streets, caused boating problems due to submerged structures, and destroyed several beaches and homes. These disasters often cause long-term economic, social, and environmental effects for states and communities, including deaths, injuries, property destruction, and an increased burden on taxpayers. Currently FEMA programs are unable to provide assistance for projects related to sustained high water levels and long-term shoreline erosion. This bill would ensure that communities facing these hazards are eligible for loans to fund such mitigation projects.

Below are statements in support of the Senators’ bipartisan legislation:

“The U.S. Chamber is pleased to support the STORM Act introduced by Senator Johnson and Senator Peters,” said Marty Durbin, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute. “Building modern, resilient infrastructure – from roads, bridges, and energy to water systems, waterways, and agriculture – is one of our top priorities. The STORM Act would provide an important tool to help states reduce risks from future disasters, and support high-growth companies that fuel the quality life and prosperity for communities across our nation. We hope it sees swift consideration by the Senate, and we thank the bill’s sponsors for their leadership on this important issue.”

“The climate change crisis is already creating strange weather events and excessive rainfall in Michigan,” said Bentley Johnson, Senior Partnerships Manager for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Record-high lake levels are eroding our coasts, swallowing sand dunes and beaches, and threatening communities in many ways. Flooded farm fields are hurting farmers and run-off pollution threatens our sources of drinking water. Local governments must be equipped to combat this crisis, now and in the future, which is why this bill is so important. We applaud Senator Peters’ to tackling this crisis head on and advancing a critical tool for Michigan to protect our water, our air and our economy.”

“Rapidly rising water levels have the potential to devastate communities like Traverse City, resulting in road closures, shrinking shorelines and costly damage to private property. Without support and resources from the federal government, there is no clear path forward for many shoreline communities,” said Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers. “I’m grateful for Senator Peters’ efforts to provide local governments with the resources they need to address this growing crisis and prepare for a future where high levels are an enduring challenge.”

“Decades of experience living in a flood plain has taught the people of Luna Pier how to best protect our property from rising water levels. The people of our city have come together to address this growing threat, contributing their time, talent, energy and innovative ideas with much success. However, with this new reality of sustained high lake levels, we now need more support in order to effectively solve the problems unique to our region.” said Luna Pier Mayor Jim Gardner. “It is absolutely vital that communities like Luna Pier can quickly and easily access the much-needed funds to invest responsibly in our precious lakeshore communities. I am grateful to Senator Peters for his leadership on this issue and his commitment to protecting the gift we call the Great Lakes.”

“As you are aware, we will know more about the extent of the damage to Alpena’s shoreline and infrastructure as the snow and ice clear,” said Alpena City Manager Rachel Smolinski. “We also need to be prepared for any future damage due to high water, wind, or wave action. Access to a low interest loan through the revolving loan funds established by the STORM Act may be our best option to address these cumulative issues.”

“In recent years, Manistee residents have witnessed firsthand the destructive effects of record high water levels, as Lake Michigan has continued to eat away at our shorelines and inch closer to our homes,” said Manistee City Manager Thad Taylor. “Lakeshore property owners simply do not have the tools and resources to combat this growing problem on their own. I appreciate Senator Peters’ efforts to work with local leaders in delivering a whole-of-government approach to this growing crisis and strongly support this important legislation.”