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GLIN==> Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant News: Great Lakes Clean Up Pays Off for Communities


April 11, 2006

Source:   John Braden (217) 333-5501
Contact:  Bob Sampson (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu
Extension Communications Specialist

Great Lakes Clean Up Pays Off for Communities

URBANA-When faced with Superfund site clean-up costs calculated in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, one school of thought holds that the best thing to do "is just let the dead dog stay where it is," said a University of Illinois environmental economist.

John Braden, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, is an expert in the economic benefits that can accrue from cleaning up contaminated harbors, 31 of which surround the U.S. Great Lakes. These sites contain dangerous levels of PCBs, heavy metals, and other toxic industrial wastes.

Two years ago, he conducted a study on the benefits of cleaning up Waukegan Harbor and is now working on similar underwater sites in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Buffalo, New York.

"These Superfund sites that are underwater pose not only a danger to those living near them but also have an impact on the aquatic food chain," he explained. "Contamination from these sites, plus distresses from non-native species introduced into the Lakes, have slaughtered the Great Lakes fisheries."

Contaminants trapped in the sediments in the harbor are absorbed by smaller creatures which are, in turn, consumed by larger creatures and so on--and the dangerous chemicals rise up through the food chain. Many of the large fish valued for human consumption are so contaminated that people are warned to consume limited amounts, if any.

"But since it costs many millions of dollars to clean up just one of these sites, some have said maybe they should just be left alone," Braden explained. "I was asked to look at the economic benefits of getting these pollutants out."

In Waukegan, Braden used two economic models to estimate the impact on property values alone if Waukegan Harbor's PCBs and other pollutants were removed. Property values reflect the danger that local residents attach to the contaminated sites. The economic impacts on fisheries would be over and above the property value impact.

"Both models produced an estimated benefit of $400 million in improved property values," he said. "Clean up the harbor and current residents will invest in their properties and an area that once was avoided will become attractive for homes and other development. There is more interest in the area and that generates higher prices for land.

"We concluded there was a huge economic potential there if the community could figure out how to clean up the harbor."

Others agreed and last July Waukegan's congressman, Mark Kirk, announced a $10 million federal grant to start the clean-up and referred to the benefits outlined in the U of I study.

The Waukegan experience led to two more studies--Sheboygan and Buffalo.

"Each is a different kind of setting than Waukegan but the essential problem is the same--what is the economic benefit to be realized from a clean-up," said Braden.

A Presidential Task Force on the Great Lakes recently projected it might cost between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion to remove the pollutants from all 31 contaminated harbors.

"I believe the economic benefits from such expenditure could easily exceed $6 billion," said Braden.  "And that figure doesn't include the benefit to the fisheries if these pollutants are removed.

"I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg in the value of the economic benefits we're estimating. We're just looking at the impact on property values which, in turn, impact property taxes. This fact alone makes it worthwhile for affected communities to think about ways they can accelerate the clean-up of their sites. It will pay off in increased revenues for local governments."

Funding for the studies has come from the U.S. EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago, the U of I Experiment Station, and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. The Northeast-Midwest Institute in Washington, D.C. is a partner in the research

Braden expects to have results from the Sheboygan and Buffalo studies late this summer.


Irene Miles
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
376 NSRC
1101 W. Peabody Dr.
Urbana, Il 61801
(217) 333-8055
FAX (217) 333-8046