April 22, 2013
LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today issued a formal Attorney General Opinion stating that the Natural Resources Trust Fund, as created in the Michigan Constitution, cannot be used for the maintenance of existing public recreation facilities, such as maintenance dredging of existing harbors.
"The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund cannot be used as an ATM," said Schuette. "The voters enshrined the Trust Fund in our Constitution for a very specific purpose: to preserve and protect Michigan's bountiful resources for generations to come. The message is straightforward - hands off the Trust Fund."
On March 27, 2013, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation appropriating $21 million from the state general fund and the Michigan State Waterways Fund for emergency dredging projects required due to low water levels in the Great Lakes. However, Schuette's office has continued to receive questions from others about whether the Natural Resources Trust Fund could be used for similar projects in the future.
"This opinion should put the speculation to rest. Maintenance dredging projects cannot be funded by the Natural Resources Trust Fund, period."
Schuette concludes in Attorney General Opinion 7270 that money from the Natural Resources Trust Fund "cannot be used for the maintenance of existing public recreation facilities, such as maintenance dredging of existing harbors" (p.1).
Schuette notes that there is an additional funding avenue that may be pursued in the future for certain public dredging projects. In the opinion, Schuette states that the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act provides for "the use of funds in the Waterways Account of the Michigan Conservation and Recreation Legacy Fund for operation and maintenance of public recreation facilities, including the dredging of existing harbors" (p.1). Expenditures from the Waterways Account must be limited to public recreation facilities and "the primary purpose of the dredging must be to enhance access for recreational watercraft" (p.1)
It is the Attorney General's duty "to give his opinion upon all questions of law submitted to him by the legislature or either branch thereof, or by the governor . . . or any other state officer" (MCL 14.32). To fulfill that duty, Attorney General Schuette issues informational letters as well as formal Attorney General Opinions in response to requests from the legislature, state agencies, and the governor.
Attorney General Opinion 7270 was issued at the request of Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh.
Formal opinions are available for review on the Attorney General's website, www.michigan.gov/agopinions.