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E-M:/ Update on DNR/DEQ Budget and TNC contracts
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SHORT OVERVIEW: Sen Approps Com passed DNR Budget with language identical to
DEQ Budget that would prevent any contracts to be signed with TNC's
Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Senator Gast, Committee Chair, however
has directed that committee members work to try to develop an amendment to be
brought up on the Senate Floor (next Tuesday, March 23 is expected date) that
would allow for a reasonable transition period so that the critical expertise
and work of MNFI is not lost.
DETAILED STORY: The MI Senate Appropriations Committee debated on and voted
out the DNR Budget (SB 370) today with language that would terminate any
contracts with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), i.e. ending the twenty year
history of state agency contracts with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory
(MNFI) to do endangered species inventories. The language in the DNR Budget
bill is now identical to that in the DEQ Budget bill passed yesterday by the
same committee -- Senator Bennett introduced an amendment to make the language
uniform in order to assure that the language did not exclude universities from
contracting with the DNR or DEQ.
Senator Ken DeBeaussaert asked to offer an amendment that would set a more
reasonable time frame for transition of the MNFI itself or its functions away
from TNC. DeBeaussaert argued, with support from DNR's representatives, that
the smooth transition away from a contract with TNC could be crafted without
undermining Senator Bennett's desire to block any contracts with them, but
that such a transition could not actually be completed before the end of this
fiscal year on October 1, 1999.
Senator Alma Smith produced a document prepared by the DNR that indicated that
the abrupt termination of the contract with the MNFI would lead to additional
costs (above those currently incurred from working with TNC through the MNFI
contract) of $750,000 a year to perform the same functions. All of the
additional costs would be attributed to the cost of trying to recreate the
unique functions and services provided by MNFI today. Even though the DNR has
a contract with TNC well past the end of this fiscal year, there is no clause
in that contract in which a penalty would be invoked for termination.
Senator Bennett resisted any efforts to bring up DeBeaussaert's amendment in
the full committee, and was insistent that his amendment be passed.
Senator Gast asked if there could be an effort by the Senators involved
(Bennett, DeBeaussaert, Smith), DNR and TNC to come up with compromise
language that would address the concerns about a transition. Gast urged that
the Bennett amendment be passed to bring the DNR bill into consistency with
the DEQ bill, but that the various Senators and representatives sit down and
hammer out language before the bill goes to the Senate Floor (expected next
This time the amendment offered by Senator Bennett was passed on a vote
following straight party lines.
Some additional discussion raised questions about the language and its actual
effect on any dealings between these state agencies and TNC. It was clear the
full impact of this language was not well understood by any of the Committee
members or those in the agencies which would be affected.
ALL State Senators will vote on the DNR and DEQ budgets when they come to the
full Senate next week. We will post on this list any information about
amendments that will be offered on the Senate Floor, but it would be a good
idea for those who care about assuring that the capacity of the state to
identify and inventory natural features, especially threatened and endangered
species, to CONTACT YOUR STATE SENATOR AND ASK HIM/HER TO VOTE TO ASSURE THE
STATE AGENCIES ARE ABLE TO GET CRITICAL ECOLOGICAL INFORMATION FOR PROTECTING
More details will be forthcoming!
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