Great Lakes restoration is producing huge dividends

A Great Lakes restoration project in Muskegon, Mi., is producing the kind of financial returns that would make stockbrokers envious.

The $10 million shoreline restoration project on Muskegon Lake will generate more than $66 million in economic benefits, according to a new study. That’s a 6-to-1 return on investment over a 10-year period, according to the study by Grand Valley State University economics professor Paul Isely.

The project will bring about the removal of 180,000 tons of unnatural fill from the lake, restore several miles of shoreline habitat and advance efforts to heal one of the region’s most abused waterways.

Sure, the work will make Muskegon Lake more hospitable to birds, fish and humans. But it will also bolster the economy of a community that has been hit hard by the national recession.

On a broader scale, the Muskegon Lake project highlights the tremendous economic benefits that can be realized by removing toxic mud from Great Lakes harbors, restoring wetlands and fighting invasive species. It also underscores the need for Congress to fully fund President Obama’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Congress this year reduced funding for the GLRI from $475 million to $300 million; it was one of many federal programs affected by sweeping budget cuts.

Congress will soon consider how much money to allocate to the GLRI in fiscal 2012.

The Muskegon Lake project should prove to skeptics in Congress that restoring the Great Lakes does much more than protect pubic health and improve fish and wildlife habitat.

The GVSU study found that restoring Muskegon Lake would generate a $12 million increase in property values and up to $600,000 in new tax revenues annually. It also will result in an annual increase of more than $1 million in new recreational spending and nearly 65,000 new visitors to Muskegon Lake annually.

An earlier study by the Brookings Institution found that every $1 spent on Great Lakes restoration creates $2 in economic benefits.

Keep those figures in mind the next time someone questions the value of protecting and restoring North America’s freshwater seas. Challenge the skeptics to identify any other federal program that produces a 6-to-1 return on investment while protecting a resource that provides drinking water for 25 million people and fuels one of the world’s largest regional economies.