Restoring the Great Lakes is a worthwhile investment, according to a new study that found the economic benefits of such work could far exceed the costs.
Economists at Grand Valley State University examined how a $10 million, federally funded shoreline restoration project on a Michigan lake affected nearby housing values and the lake’s recreational value.
They concluded that restoring fish and wildlife habitat along several miles of Muskegon Lake shoreline increased the collective value of nearby houses by $12 million and increased the lake’s recreational value by $2.5 million.
In other words, the $10 million project — funded with federal stimulus dollars — created an economic benefit of nearly $15 million, said Paul Isley, associate professor of economic at GVSU.
“The project pays for itself,” Isley said.
The $15 million figure was very conservative, Isley said. It only included the project’s economic benefits to people living in Muskegon County and didn’t account for job creation, which Isley said could add another $20 million to the project’s economic benefit.
Muskegon Lake is one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern, due to historic industrial activities that contaminated lake bottom sediments, destroyed coastal wetlands and left tons of concrete and wood fill in the lake.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided $10 million in stimulus funds to restore fish and wildlife habitat along several miles of Muskegon Lake shoreline.
The project, which is still ongoing, will remove 182,826 metric tons of unnatural fill to restore aquatic natural resources on 23.6 acres of shoreline. Nearly two miles of hardened shoreline will be transformed back to a more natural condition, creating or restoring about 26 acres of wetlands.
Isley said the project would result in anglers and boaters making an additional 64,835 trips to the lake. Muskegon Lake is popular among boaters and has a tremendous fishery, despite decades of industrial abuse.
The GVSU study affirmed an earlier study the Brookings Institution, which found that every $1 spent on Great Lakes restoration created $2 of economic benefit — by creating jobs, improving fisheries and attracting more visitors to the lakes.
Isley’s study comes as Congress is poised to make deep cuts in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative—a federal program to restore habitat, clean up toxic pollution, reduce polluted runoff and confront aquatic invasive species.
Congress and the president provided $475 million in 2010 for Great Lakes restoration projects. The U.S. House passed a funding bill that slashes funding to the program to $225 million this year. The U.S. Senate refused to go along with the cuts.
The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition—which has consistently supported fully funding the initiative at $475 million—is urging the U.S. Senate to hold the line against further cuts and approve $300 million for the program, the amount approved by the chamber’s appropriations committee.
Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the coalition, said cutting Great Lakes restoration funds would be a mistake.
“We can’t afford not to protect the Great Lakes — they are the source of drinking water for 30 million people,” Skelding said. “Restoration efforts are already producing results, but there is still a lot of work to be done. If we cut funding now, it will only cost more later because all of these projects will only get harder and more expensive the longer we wait.”