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 LANSING, Mich., Feb. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- Michigan has taken a major

first step toward reducing the raw sewage dumped into its lakes, rivers and streams and preserving more state land for the public with a seven- bill package passed by the state House of Representatives (Jan. 29).
 The legislation, without raising state taxes, would create a state fund to help local governments afford more than $1 billion of construction to end combined sewer overflows (CSOs). It would also remove a $200 million cap on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (NRTF), which uses revenues from oil and gas development on state land to buy land for public use and preservation.
 "This package is a win-win proposition for Michigan. It will improve the quality of our great fresh water lakes and rivers, it will provide more state land for future generations to enjoy and it will create thousands of jobs," said Robert Patzer, executive director of the Associated Underground Contractors, Inc. (AUC). AUC and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) are strong backers of the proposal.
 The legislation would create a special account within the Michigan Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund which would get $20 million a year from the NRTF -- money currently received by the Michigan Strategic Fund. The account would reduce communities' costs to finance construction to end their CSOs.
 This program would enable many of the nearly 70 Michigan communities with outdated combined sewer systems to finally afford the construction necessary to end their CSOs, which occur during rain and snow melts. These CSOs dump between 16 and 20 million gallons of raw sewage and contaminated wastewater into lakes, rivers and streams from Detroit to Sault Ste. Marie each year, a 1990 study found.
 The CSO account would receive its first allocation from the NRTF immediately after the current Strategic Fund diversion ends as scheduled in October 1993. Annual allocations of up to $20 million would continue until the CSO account reaches $200 million.
 The legislation would also initiate several important protections for the NRTF. It would prevent the Department of Commerce from extending the annual Strategic Fund diversion past 1993, something the department says it may pursue. It would prevent any future raids on the trust fund for non-environmental purposes. It would assure that the NRTF receives the first $2 million in oil and gas revenues each year, with the next $20 million received annually going into the CSO correction account.
 By removing the cap on revenue the NRTF can accumulate, this proposal would also allow it to recapture more of the state's oil and gas revenues for environmental purposes.
 Without this legislation, the NRTF will hit its cap in the mid to late 1990s, after which oil and gas revenues would go into the state's general fund. After reaching its cap, the NRTF can spend only the interest on its money -- about $16 million per year at that point. MUCC, which helped create the NRTF, warns that the fund's tax payments on land acquired after Oct. 1, 1987, will consume that entire $16 million by 2018, ending the NRTF's buying power.
 "This proposal would assure that revenue from one natural resource -- oil, gas and minerals -- will be used to improve and preserve two finite resources, our fresh water and natural land," Patzer said.
 These changes to the NRTF require voter approval of a constitutional amendment because the fund was established as part of the state constitution. The proposed amendment, House Joint Resolution "P," will be on the ballot for voter approval in the November general election if passed by the Senate. The bills have been sent to the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.
 The legislation would boost local economies as well, by creating as many as 14,000 construction and engineering jobs over the life of the program, Patzer added.
 Michigan Rep. Thomas Mathieu (D-Grand Rapids) sponsored HJR "P" and co-sponsored the rest of the package (House Bills 4872-4877) along with Rep. Tom Alley (D-West Branch) and Rep. Jerry Bartnik (D-Temperance).
 Other groups supporting the legislation include the National Wildlife Federation, the Michigan Environmental Health Association, Trout Unlimited and the Michigan chapter of the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
 AUC is a 45-year-old state trade association for nearly 300 underground and excavating contractor firms.
 -0- 2/11/92
 /CONTACT: Ann Gordy of Publicom Inc., 313-351-8730, for AUC/ CO: Associated Underground Contractors, Inc.; Michigan United
 Conservation Clubs ST: Michigan IN: OIL CST SU: LEG

SB-SM -- DE021 -- 8957 02/11/92 16:43 EST
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Date:Feb 11, 1992

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