Southwest Michigan legislators help transfer state geological survey to WMU

LANSING, Mich.—All geological mapping responsibilities in Michigan would be transferred from the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to Western Michigan University (WMU) if a bill approved by the Legislature today is signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder.

“Geological mapping is important to the state of Michigan, with practical applications in everyday situations. That WMU was approached to take over the program speaks to the quality of the institution’s geology program,” said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who sponsored Senate Bill 507. “I have every confidence that WMU and its geology team will excel at this new responsibility.”

Schuitmaker worked closely on the legislation with southwest Michigan colleagues, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, and Reps. Margaret O’Brien and Sean McCann.

“As the sponsor of the House-passed version, I was pleased to work closely with Sen. Schuitmaker, Rep. McCann and Speaker Bolger on this common sense solution,” said O'Brien, R-Portage. “Transferring these responsibilities to Western Michigan University is the smart thing to do and will ultimately benefit the whole state.”

Speaker Bolger agreed.

“The continued pursuit of geological mapping is important to Michigan's future, and this legislation puts the authority to conduct them in the right hands. Western Michigan University's geological expertise exceeds all our needs and has a strong national reputation,” said House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.

McCann, from Kalamazoo, said choosing WMU to handle the program reflects the school’s commitment to educational excellence.

“Western Michigan University’s Department of Geosciences is a well-respected group that deserves this opportunity,” McCann said. “It is refreshing that their professionalism and commitment to their craft has been recognized by the state of Michigan in taking over geological mapping.”

Hal Fitch, director of the Office of Geological Survey (OGS) within the DEQ, approached Western in early 2010 to discuss the university’s interest in assuming responsibility for mapping the geological resources of the state. WMU agreed to take on the duty because of its extensive expertise and nationally recognized geology program. All regulatory functions would remain with the department.

The legislation would allow the OGS director to transfer the Michigan Geological Survey from WMU to another state university in the event that WMU no longer had an academic program primarily engaged in the study of geology or if the school substantially failed in fulfilling the duties of the survey.

OGS was originally established for conducting mapping and evaluation of the state’s geological resources. Over the years, however, it became increasingly difficult for OGS to fulfill its geologic mapping and evaluation duties.

The measure will be sent to the governor for his consideration.