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Recreational boating study doesn't add up

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Ten years after it was first authorized, the Great Lakes Recreational Boating Study has finally been released by the Army Corps of Engineers. Despite an expenditure of $403,400, which the Corps gave to the Great Lakes Commission to conduct the study, the study is more than eight years late, relies on faulty methodology, and contradicts earlier findings.

The report was first due 18 months after it was commissioned on Aug. 17, 1999, as part of that year's Water Resource Development Act. On July 11, 2007, the Great Lakes Commission released a “summary report” that 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.”

The conclusions of the new and final Army Corps study completely contradict these findings: It counts “an average of 911,000 boaters [that] visit the Great Lakes annually," says they support 60,000 jobs, and estimates an annual economic impact of $9.4 billion.

What has changed in two years that reduced the number of boaters by more than a quarter, reduced the number of jobs they support by nearly half, and reduced their economic impact by nearly $7 billion? This study asks more questions than it answers. And according to the spokesman for the study, John Paul Woodley Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Army, the report “does not contain any conclusions or recommendations for federal action.” This begs the question: Why was the study conducted in the first place?

If the study's findings are not actionable, the Corps will not be able to use its own data to make decisions about dredging and other infrastructure projects that are desperately needed on the Great Lakes. This study and data is especially important now, when so many coastal municipalities are turning away from commercial navigation and looking at recreational boating as a way of revitalizing their lakefronts. In order to make sound economic decisions, they need reliable data that is not subject to the kind of second guessing inherent in the drastic differences between the 2007 summary report and the new final report.

With so much confusion, uncertainty and seeming contradiction, boaters on the Great Lakes are looking for answers. What numbers should we believe? When will they be provided? Who will provide them?

Boaters want answers.

F. Ned Dikmen, chairman
Great Lakes Boating Federation

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