|Great Lakes Boating Study?|
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By Ted McDermott
It may seem irrelevant to you, a matter better left to policy makers and activists, but a recently released study of recreational boating on the Great Lakes could have a large and direct impact on the basic, everyday way that you boat.
Does your home harbor need dredging? Are your cruising grounds polluted? Are local fish populations declining? Is the price of a new vessel out of reach due to taxes? Are the docks at your local marina deteriorating? If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” or if you feel in general that your interests as a boater are being ignored in favor of those of commercial shipping and environmentalists, then the “Great Lakes Recreational Boating Main Report,” as it is officially called, is of grave importance. Its findings could decide the fate of our pastime.
So what did the report, which was released at the end of last year, find? In short, it concluded that an “average of 911,000 boaters visit the Great Lakes annually” and that they support 60,000 jobs and have an estimated annual economic impact of $9.4 billion. Upon first glance, that seems like a lot. But when one compares these figures to those released on July 11, 2007 by the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) as part of a “summary report,” the official data makes boating look relatively minor.
The summary report found that “the 4.3 million recreational boaters registered in the eight Great Lakes states generate nearly $16 billion in spending on boats and boating activities in a single year” and that this “spending directly supports 107,000 jobs.”
So, what accounts for the huge discrepancy? What changed so significantly and quickly to account for a loss of approximately 3.4 million boaters, 47,000 jobs and more than $6 billion?
According to Terry Long of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), “As the project goes through different levels of review, we had comments that came out of that review and so we made adjustments based on those comments and that differed obviously from what the GLC had.”
The changes, says Long, resulted not from new data but from how the region was defined.
“Are you looking at the entire state border to border, or are you looking at the region along the lake? That’s where the discrepancy came. We said, ‘The guy on the west side of [Wisconsin] isn’t going to drive across the state to put his boat in on Lake Michigan.’ It became a question of how the basin or the state was defined. . . . Rather than account for the entire state, only the watershed area would count.”
So whereas the GLC draft report used data sets that included the Mississippi River, Long Island Sound, interior lakes and other bodies of water beyond the Great Lakes, the ACE counted only the use of Great Lakes shallow draft harbors.
Despite this explanation, some are questioning the validity of the study, which has traveled a long and rocky road on its way to final completion. It was commissioned 10 years ago, as part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1999, which authorized the “Great Lakes Boating Study” and mandated that it be completed “no later than 18 months after August 17, 1999.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, through its Detroit District, was charged with allocating the funds to conduct the study. ACE, in turn, contracted with the Great Lakes Commission to produce it. Why?
“At the time, back in 1999,” said Long, “it was with our understanding that the GLC had a lot of contacts in the Great Lakes area. We thought it would be advantageous to bring them in to do the research. It was more an efficiency thing. They had a more broad overall access to groups. They dealt with a lot of boating groups and companies that we don’t have access to readily. The thought process at the time was that they would do some of the work for us.”
According to Long, the first monies for the study weren’t allocated until 2002, when $208,400 was given. During the first year of funding, $57,522.58 was expended. The next year, another $125,463.73 was spent. In 2004, the year the GLC gathered the data, a further $220,413.69 was allocated. And another $39,947.93 was allocated over the next three years, bringing the total cost of the study to $443,347.93.