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Great Lakes shoreline

Shoring up shorelines pays off

CMU team helps reveal positive impact of federal funds used to upgrade Michigan shorelines.

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

​Statistics without human context are like a novel without characters.

Two Central Michigan University geography and environmental studies faculty members provided the human context for a recently released report on the positive economic impact of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Marcello Graziano and Matthew Liesch worked with colleagues at the University of Michigan to research social and economic benefits of cleaning up toxic sites on the Great Lakes. Among other findings, the report estimated that every GLRI dollar spent on lake shore community restoration projects from 2010-16 will produce $3.35 of additional economic output in the Great Lakes region through 2036. The initiative launched in 2010.

An example of the return on investment is in Muskegon, where once the harbor was heavily polluted with industrial waste and hotel rooms were inexpensive and, in one case, even faced away from the water. Now in Muskegon and elsewhere, hotels capitalize on water views and rent kayaks and canoes to customers, he said.

It took the two teams working together to find that out.

The CMU team in the College of Science and Engineering, which included postdoctoral students, interviewed business leaders, real estate developers, mayors, nonprofit directors and others to see how the relationship between near-shore residents and the water has changed after restorations. In addition, they often told of their investments made where waterways had been cleaned.

The team at U-M's Research Seminar for Quantitative Economics used Liesch and Graziano's interviews to shape the economic modeling report.

"Combining the two shows a more complete picture of the impact," Liesch said.

CMU's Great Lakes reputation

The Great Lakes Commission chose both universities for their strengths: CMU for its Great Lakes research and U-M for its research seminar, Graziano said.

"This study is one of the many ways that CMU and the Institute for Great Lakes Research are leaders in research regarding the Great Lakes fish communities as well as how humans impact the Great Lakes and shorelines," Liesch said.

CMU's team found through its case studies that not only does the GLRI funding clean up the environment, but the action influences community planning decisions.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said: "This study confirms what we have known for a long time – investing in successful programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative helps to protect our water and support Michigan's economy. The GLRI is a vital program that helps to clean up pollution and combat the threat of invasive species like Asian carp."

Investments pay off

The study shows that beyond the environmental impact of cleaning up the Great Lakes shores, there are many other benefits, including the redevelopment of old industrial areas into places where people can live, work and play, and changing the way residents perceive their neighborhoods and the area broadly.

Developers showed that they would take a gamble on areas that received the funding because of the positive changes that occurred not only in the environment but also in the optimism of community members reacting to the changes.

Citing a $17 million residential and commercial development along the Buffalo River, Liesch said the developers wouldn't have spent that money on a new building if the word on the street was that people needed to avoid those waterfronts.

"But if the history shows that community optimism rises after improvements are made to polluted areas, such as some areas of Muskegon Lake's shoreline or the 'Silo City' district of grain elevators in Buffalo, New York, the community will continue to build upon that sense of optimism."

In addition, the statistics say that for every dollar of GLRI spending increased local housing prices by $1.08, and tourism activity generated by the GLRI will increase regional economic output by $1.62 for every $1 in future federal spending.

"We bring these research results into our classrooms and courses." — Matthew Liesch, geography and environmental studies faculty member

Benefits to CMU students

The study not only displays CMU's Great Lakes and research expertise, it brings real-life current examples to current and future students.

"We bring these research results into our classrooms and courses about the Great Lakes and into geography and environmental studies courses, which have a long tradition of looking at the relationship between humans and their environment," Liesch said.

"We are building on the knowledge we have acquired through this project to jumpstart other projects that will fund graduate studies in the future," Graziano added.

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