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Published in Economic Development

New federal law opens low-interest loans for coastal communities battling high water, erosion

BY Monday, January 04, 2021 04:02pm

A federal bill has been signed into law that allows states battling high water levels and erosion to create revolving loan funds for coastal mitigation projects. 

The STORM Act — sponsored by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan — allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund programs that would be open to states and local governments for projects that help with coastal erosion from high water, which has been particularly challenging along Michigan’s Lake Michigan shoreline the last couple of years. 

Local governments could invest the low-interest loans in projects that reduce the risk of property losses and higher insurance rates while also helping with disaster recovery. 

Officials say the loans would reach communities quicker than traditional FEMA loans.

“Climate change and high water levels on the Great Lakes are causing serious damage to our shorelines and harming the livelihoods and property of too many Michiganders,” Peters said in a statement. “Providing Michigan’s coastal communities with loans so they can build back resiliently will help ensure that our coastlines in Michigan remain safe and pristine.”

Peters and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, introduced the bipartisan STORM (Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation) Act in mid March. It was co-sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma. 

President Trump signed the bill on Jan. 1.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron dropped 2 inches from October to November 2020, although the November lake levels were 32 inches above the lakes’ long-term average and 7 inches below the record high. The levels are expected to remain 27-30 inches above the long-term average for the next six months.

Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers said in a statement that rapidly rising water levels can potentially “devastate” coastal communities, leading to road closures and damaged properties.

“Without support and resources from the federal government, there is no clear path forward for many shoreline communities,” Carruthers said.

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