Coastal restoration generates major economic gains for Muskegon

May 3, 2011 | News and Announcements

$66 million in economic benefits over ten years—a 6-to-1 return on investment—and nearly 65,000 new visitors annually

A large-scale coastal restoration project on Muskegon Lake, located in West Michigan on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, will generate more than $66 million in economic benefits (a 6-to-1 return on investment) over ten years and attract nearly 65,000 new visitors annually according to a detailed economic analysis presented today in a briefing to local officials. With $10 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Muskegon Lake Habitat Restoration Project is removing 180,000 tons of unnatural fill from the lake bottom and rehabilitating nearly a mile of shoreline. The project will create habitat for valuable fish and wildlife resources and improved recreational opportunities for local residents and tourists. Building on more than two decades of cleanup efforts, the project marks a transition from “remediation” to “restoration” for the degraded lake and brings it closer to being removed from the list of Great Lakes “toxic hotspots.”

Proponents of habitat restoration have long cited the relationship between environmental quality and economic well-being. New results from the study, conducted by Grand Valley State University (GVSU), reaffirm this relationship, showing that the coastal restoration project will generate greater economic gains than anticipated, including rising property values and increased recreational uses.

The $10 million project is restoring multiple sites along the south shore of Muskegon Lake and is led by the Great Lakes Commission and the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission. It builds on more than two decades of cleanup work on former industrial areas along Muskegon Lake, including large-scale removals of toxic sediments funded by U.S. EPA and the State of Michigan.

Conducted by Dr. Paul Isely, chair of GVSU’s Economics Department, the study quantified the economic benefits that will result from the coastal restoration project. Using well established methods and rigorous reviews from outside experts, the study found that the project will 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. In the long term, the project is expected to result in an overall economic benefit to Muskegon of $66 million – yielding more than a 6-to-1 return on investment.

According to Dr. Isely, “we used a variety of widely accepted methods to evaluate the economic benefits associated with habitat restoration and the results have been reviewed by other leading economists. The results are clear and we are excited to know that this restoration project will have a significant beneficial economic impact on the community.”

Speaking at the briefing, Congressman Bill Huizenga, stated that “this restoration will bring a valuable boost to the community and local economy by inviting more resident and tourist recreation to the southern shores of Muskegon Lake, and ensuring we have a strong legacy of fish and wildlife resources that will keep people coming back.”

Coastal restoration efforts in Muskegon reflect a broader, regional strategy to create jobs and stimulate economic development in waterfront communities. “This project showcases the immense economic potential of the Great Lakes for Michigan’s coastal communities,” said Patricia Birkholz, Director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes. “Cleaning up degraded areas along the Great Lakes isn’t just about correcting mistakes of the past. It is also an investment that will build a better future for Michigan,” Birkholz added.

Kathy Evans, environmental planner for the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission and the manager of the restoration project, emphasized that “we are increasing fish and wildlife habitat on Muskegon Lake and creating an environmental and economic benefit for the community.”

The restoration project builds on nearly 25 years of work by federal, state and local agencies, in cooperation with landowners, businesses and community groups, to restore environmental quality in Muskegon Lake. The lake was designated an Area of Concern in 1987 under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement due to historic filling of open water, wetlands and pollution discharges that contaminated the lake bottom.

Restoration efforts on Muskegon Lake and other degraded areas along the Great Lakes are being expedited under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a five-year, $2.2 billion program begun in 2009 that is supporting implementation of a comprehensive restoration strategy for the Great Lakes. In its first year alone, the Initiative is providing over $100 million for more than 175 Great Lakes restoration projects in Michigan.

For immediate release: May 3, 2011  |  Download Fact Sheet
 Matt Doss, Great Lakes Commission, [email protected], office: 734-971-9135
Kathy Evans, West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, office: 231-722-7878 ext. 17; cell: 231-903-7224


The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by James Tierney, assistant commissioner for water resources at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, is an interstate compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of governors’ appointees, state legislators, and agency officials from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Learn more at

The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, is a federal- and state-designated regional planning and development agency serving 120 local governments in Lake, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo, and Oceana counties. WMSRDC operates programs in economic development, transportation, homeland security, environmental planning, community development, information & communications, and others. Learn more at


For media inquiries, please contact Beth Wanamaker, [email protected].

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