PLATTSBURGH — The Lake Champlain Basin Program stands to lose about 80 percent of its funding in the plan put forth months ago by President Donald Trump and the House Appropriations Committee.
So Program Director Eric Howe was understandably excited to learn legislation had passed the House of Representatives that would restore $4.4 million in fiscal-year 2018 federal funding for the Grand Isle, Vt., based program.
North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) co-sponsored the bill, which was written by Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat.
"Certainly it's not a guarantee that it will be part of the 2018 fiscal budget," Howe said. "But it certainly helps set the stage for the Senate (to act, too)."
The amendment rejects the recommendations of Trump and the House Appropriations Committee to eliminate funding for the Basin Program.
"Lake Champlain is the environmental crown jewel of our region," Welch said in a news release.
"It is central to our cultural heritage and natural history and an invaluable recreational and economic resource. My amendment will ensure that the Lake Champlain Basin Program continues its vital mission to protect and preserve this great lake for generations to come."
BULK OF FUNDING
The federal money up for restoration, Howe said, "is the bulk of our funding."
Without it, he said, the Basin Program would have to "eliminate all grant programs for on-the-ground projects in the next year or so."
Those would include initiatives to improve water quality and habitat for aquatic animals.
And part-time staff would have to be let go, Howe said.
"It's been a little bit nerve-wracking over the past several months."
Stefanik (R-Willsboro) said the funding would help the program protect the lake from invasive species.
"The Lake Champlain Basin Program is critical to protecting this North Country treasure from invasive species and to protecting its biodiversity," she said in a statement.
"In my lifetime, I have watched the detrimental effects that zebra mussels have had as they migrated into the waters of Lake Champlain.
"As co-chair of the Congressional Invasive Species Caucus, I was pleased to work on this amendment to ensure this program received the full funding necessary to protect Lake Champlain. I thank Congressman Welch for his leadership on this bipartisan effort."
The Lake Champlain Basin Program, created in 1990, is a regional collaboration among Vermont, New York and the Province of Quebec to restore and protect Lake Champlain and its surrounding watershed.
The program provides technical resources and grants to private organizations, local communities and individuals to support efforts that benefit Lake Champlain’s water quality, fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, recreation and cultural resources.
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read said the bill is critical to the lake's future.
"Lake Champlain is a treasure which we have too often neglected. We must act as careful stewards of a resource that moderates our environment, is an essential part of our water cycle and allows us amazing recreational opportunities and a quality of life," he said.
"I know that we on this side of the lake embrace this effort and want to be fully included in the design and implementation of all such stewardship programs."
Clinton County Legislature Chairman Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain) agreed.
"I would like to thank Congresswoman Stefanik and Congressman Welch for the bipartisan support in restoring the $4.4 million cut in the appropriation bill for the Lake Champlain Basin Program," he said.
"I see this in economic-development terms as these monies can be used for fisheries, recreation and wildlife promotion. We need to continue to attract people from outside our area to come to Clinton County.
"Our environment is a tremendous economic asset."
Howe believed the Senate was expected to take up the issue this week.
"I'm looking forward to the outcome," he said.
— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.