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Rep. Sara Cambensy sponsors bills to update loan programs for local communities

Cambensy

HOUGHTON — On Thursday afternoon, State Representative Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) announced her support for a legislative proposal that would update the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) in order to help rural communities qualify for funding through these programs.

The CWSRF and DWSRF operate as federal-state partnerships providing low-cost financing to communities for water quality infrastructure projects.

A press release from Rep. Cambensy’s office said that the American Rescue Fund – a $1.9 trillion federal package signed into law in 2021 – will help fund state loan programs, giving local governments the opportunity to replace and update water mains and lead service lines.

Cambensy is part of a bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers, including Representatives Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan) and Dave Martin (R-Davison), who worked together to draft the proposed legislation.

These lawmakers introduced House bills 5890, 5891, and 5892 to the Michigan House of Representatives on March 10. Each bill would amend a piece of existing legislation, including the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act of 1994.

According to Cambensy’s press release, the proposed bills would streamline the public hearing process for project consideration, allow more document types to be used in applying for projects, and give Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) greater flexibility and discretion in loan forgiveness.

They would also allow EGLE to update the scoring criteria used to evaluate requests for project funding. Under current law, lead service line replacement receives a low score despite its importance in many communities.

A lead service line is a pipe or water supply connection made from material that contains lead. These service lines can release lead, a toxic metal, into drinking water.

There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. According to the Mayo Clinic, lead exposure can damage the kidneys and nervous system and cause severe health problems. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can impair mental and physical development.

Despite efforts to replace lead pipes, they remain common across much of the United States and the state of Michigan.

In a statement included in the press release, Cambensy said:

“The goal of this legislation is to align portions of both acts while reducing the burden of the application process that has severely limited our most rural communities from doing their infrastructure assessments and qualifying. The scoring and eligibility criteria for these grants haven’t been updated in decades, and we wanted to make sure the communities that need this funding the most can compete for the dollars on a level playing field.”

Rep. Cambensy’s office was unavailable when the Gazette requested further comment on the subject.

The proposed bills (HB 5890-5892) were referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation. Committee hearings on the bill package are expected to begin in April.

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