Sen. Casperson welcomes Escanaba veteran to the Capitol

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, (right) welcomed World War II veteran John D’Antonio, sergeant first class, to the Michigan Capitol Thursday.

D’Antonio and other veterans from around the state were invited to the Senate floor as part of the Annual Senate Memorial Day Service, where colors are presented and lawmakers recognize the men and women who have lost their lives in the service of our country.

D’Antonio, a resident of Escanaba, belongs to numerous military and civic organizations, including the American Legion Post #0082 in Escanaba, Disabled American Veterans Chapter #24 and the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight.


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Michigan Senate passes bills to improve outdoor recreational funding

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate Wednesday passed a series of bills to support state and local parks, fund recreational projects and needs throughout the state, and create more flexibility in the use of both the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) and the Michigan State Parks Endowment Fund (MSPEF).

Senate Joint Resolution O, and Senate Bills 763, 931, and 932 would alter the way that revenues to the MNRFT and the MSPEF may be used – increasing the ability to address the demands and opportunities for Michigan’s recreational areas.

“The proposed changes will allow for greater flexibility to focus grant funding on natural resources needs relating to recreation development, redevelopment and renovation at the state and local levels,” said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. “The NRTF has been very successful overall since it’s since its beginning 41 years ago. Now it would be helpful to have some added flexibility so the trust fund board can build on the wise use of the MNRTF and MSPEF funds. These changes will help meet the natural resource needs of our local communities and the state, things like trails and park infrastructure, for many more years to come.”

The bills include reforms agreed upon by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), conservation and recreation groups, local units of government, and recreation area users.

“We applaud Senate passage of Joint Resolution O, which after significant stakeholder engagement, increases funding for state parks while addressing a critical outdoor recreation need at the local level,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “The Senate action today is an important step in assuring funding derived from oil, gas and mineral royalties from state land supports natural resources and outdoor recreation in Michigan for current and future generations.”

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund provides a source of funding for public outdoor recreation and the public acquisition of lands for resource protection. The trust fund was established in 1976 and is constitutionally protected.

The Michigan State Park Endowment Fund was established in 1994 for the operation, maintenance and capital improvements of the Michigan state parks. When the trust fund reached its funding cap in 2011, the annual revenue from mineral royalties began to be deposited in the MSPEF.

Previously, these funds were strictly allocated toward acquiring new land for public use and conservation, and for minor updates to park infrastructures.

While many of the restrictions remain in place, the new funding allocations included in the legislation would allow for more money to be spent on parks and recreational resources. Municipalities and other government bodies would be able to apply for this funding through competitive grants similar to the system already in place for the MNRTF.

“I’m very excited to be able to open this funding up for more local investment,” said Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart. “Michigan is a regional destination for outdoor tourism and this is one more way that we can provide communities with the resources necessary to improve or create more recreational opportunities.”

As the law stands now, until the MSPEF reaches $800 million half of the annual revenue is credited back into the principal of the MSPEF. The remaining funds may be spent on operations, maintenance, and capital improvements at state parks and for the acquisition of land or rights in land for state parks.

This new package of bills would change that distribution to the following:

  • 30 percent directed to the principal of the MSPEF
  • 55 percent towards state park operation and infrastructure
  • 15 percent to a new local development projects grant program

“This legislation hasn’t been updated in sixteen years,” said Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart. “It’s long overdue that we begin to free up these funds for improvement to our communities and natural resources. I hope the voters see the value of what we’re trying to do here, and that they’ll come out to support these improvements.”

Changes to the funding structure would apply beginning Jan. 1, 2020, and would be further increased as the funds continue to mature. Once the MSPEF reaches $800 million, oil and gas royalties would return to the MNRTF and up to 50 percent plus interest and earnings could be spent each year.

The bills will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration. If they pass the House, Michigan residents will have a chance to vote on the changes via ballot initiative.


Sen. Casperson welcomes Pastor Bob Derheim to the Capitol

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, welcomed Pastor Bob Derheim to the Capitol Wednesday to give the invocation at the opening of the Senate session. Derheim serves at the New Life Assembly of God in Escanaba.




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Upper Michigan legislators support President Trump’s call to rebuild Soo Locks

LANSING, Mich. — President Trump mentioned the Soo Locks in his address to supporters at a rally in Washington, Michigan Saturday, saying he would help get the locks fixed with support from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Thousands of Michiganders packed the warehouse building where the event was held, and thousands more stood outside in chilly weather to watch the address on an impromptu big-screen. Cheers erupted when the president mentioned he would help fix the locks.

“For decades, the federal government has acknowledged the need for restorations, and I am pleased that President Trump understands the urgency of fixing our aging infrastructure at the Soo Locks,” said Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. “Not only are the locks an extremely important economic asset to Sault Ste. Marie and the Upper Peninsula, they are also vital to our state and national economies and significant to national security.”

The Soo locks, which connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron, have been a critical shipping connection between these bodies of water for over 160 years. The modern locks still in use, named the Poe lock and MacArthur lock, transport nearly 7,000 vessels per year carrying 75.5 million tons of cargo.

“About half of the cargo that travels through the locks is iron ore from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. “This material is necessary for the manufacturing of cars, tools and all manner of iron and steel products that are used throughout the country. The giant ships that transport this material rely on the locks to get to the refineries. Any downtime at the locks due to maintenance can be very costly for the entire iron industry.”

Despite their economic importance to the region, major renovations to the locks have not been performed in 50 years. Longstanding plans for upgrades have been delayed because of cost and construction planning difficulties.

“For years there have been discussions about replacing the current Davis and Sabin locks with a new lock that can accommodate larger ships,” said Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City. “Of the four locks, only one is large enough for today’s massive freighters to navigate. I’m happy to hear the president address the need for an upgrade, and I hope we can finally start acting on these drawn-out discussions.”

Trump lightheartedly stated that he would call the Army Corps of Engineers immediately after the rally ended, or at the latest, the day after. Infrastructure upgrades have been a consistent theme in Trump’s addresses, with roads, bridges and airports often getting mentioned as examples. However, this is the first time the president has mentioned the Soo Locks.

“I want to thank the Michigan representatives at the federal level who brought this to President Trump’s attention during his visit,” said Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain. “We’re going to continue working with stakeholders from industry and at all levels of government to see this project through to fruition. Hopefully now we’ll see a greater cooperation to finally fix up the Soo Locks.”