A Great Lakes restoration project in Muskegon, Mich., 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.

Isley, chairman of the economics department, says in a press release:

“The results are clear and we are excited to know that this restoration project will have a significant beneficial economic impact on the community.”

Restoration Leads to Economic Benefit

The $10 million project is being overseen by the Great Lakes Commission and West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission. According to the new report the project will generate:

  • A $12 million increase in property values
  • Up to $600,000 in new tax revenue annually
  • Over $1 million in new recreational spending annually in Muskegon
  • Nearly 65,000 additional visitors annually
  • $66 million in economic benefits over ten years
  • More than a 6-to-1 return on investment

Jeff Skelding of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said:

“These findings underscore why we consider Great Lakes restoration one of the best returns on the dollar in the federal budget. The nation cannot afford not to restore the Lakes—they are the source of drinking water for millions. If we cut the funding now, it will only cost more later because all of these projects will only get harder and more expensive the longer we wait.”

The restoration project, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, 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.

The work will make Muskegon Lake more hospitable to birds, fish and people. 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 the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Congress funded the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $475 million in the 2010 budget and $300 million in the recently passed 2011 budget (a significant victory considering the fact that some U.S. House budgets had the initiative at $225 million).

Congress Making Key Budget Decisions Now
Congress will soon consider how much money to allocate to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in fiscal year 2012.

The Muskegon Lake project provides members of Congress some powerful reasons to champion investments in the Lakes. In addition to the tremendous benefits to public health and fish and wildlife habitat, restoration projects help create jobs, improve property values and increase tourism and recreational opportunities.

The Muskegon Lake project builds off of 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 more than 30 million people and fuels one of the world’s largest regional economies.