Few would argue against the idea that small businesses are the backbone of New York’s economy. So, it would only stand to reason that business leaders would embrace an opportunity to inject millions of dollars into our economy—with the primary beneficiaries being small businesses that line Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River watershed.
Battle lines drawn over Lake Ontario plan
Such an opportunity exists, and more than 40 organizations—including business, environmental, conservation, sportsmen and tourism groups—have joined individual shoreline property owners and thrown their support behind it. Plan 2014 is that rare initiative that will not only protect our shoreline communities and restore our environment, but also help revitalize the upstate economy.
A modern, science-based plan, Plan 2014 has been proposed by the International Joint Commission as a solution to the current peril facing Lake Ontario. Plan 2014 strikes a balance between all interests. It was developed over the last 14 years using state-of-the-art scientific data and modeling, and with input from academic institutions, the shipping industry, environmental experts and, of course, shoreline property owners like me.
Plan 2014 is a winner for our region’s economy and environment. How does it affect business? Plan 2014 will help restore 64,000 acres of wetlands, which will revitalize meadow marsh ecosystems, fish populations and habitats. That’s great news for small businesses that rely on tourists and sportsmen to fish, hunt and enjoy Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River watershed. It’s a plan that will maintain commercial shipping, boost hydropower production and enhance outdoor recreation industries like hunting, fishing, birding and boating. That means more money going into our economy through small local businesses.
It’s for all of these reasons that I was disappointed the Rochester Business Journal’s recent series on Plan 2014 failed to provide the proper voice to the many business community members—myself included—who strongly support this initiative. Too much of the debate has been clouded by wild misunderstanding of what the plan is and how it will actually impact New York.
Here’s the truth from a business perspective: Plan 2014 requires no taxpayer dollars to implement, but is estimated to create almost $15 million annually that will go into the Lake Ontario region, economy. A cost-benefit analysis by the Brookings Institution shows a 2-1 return for the economy on every $1 spent on restoration of the Great Lakes region. There will be an annual return of $9.1 million through hunting, angling and other tourism-related industries alone.
An additional benefit will come from a boost in hydropower production. As a result of the modern plan, more natural fall and spring water levels will be possible, which in turn will increase the production of St. Lawrence and Niagara River hydropower facilities. This will generate enough additional power to light 8,000 homes, and a portion of that will be used in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ReCharge NY program, directly benefiting small-business development in Upstate New York.
Maintaining the status quo would be detrimental to one of New York’s most valuable natural resources, and therefore our economy. The current lake regulation plan has already created a dramatic reduction in natural protection from severe storms—putting homes, businesses and communities directly in harm’s way once the next big storm hits.
As for those of us fortunate to have homes on the lake, Plan 2014 will require slightly more maintenance of our shoreline protection structures. In essence, I’ll have to maintain my shoreline breakwalls not every 15 years, but every 14 years.
Some shoreline owners want taxpayers to subsidize this expense. Others, including me, think that paying for shoreline protection comes with the decision to live next to the water, and that the enormous benefits of Plan 2014 should not be held up by a small increase in the cost of coastal living.
Furthermore, the costs to shoreline property have been greatly exaggerated by misinformed opponents of Plan 2014, who fail to take into account that costs are spread out among the 700 miles of shoreline in the U.S. and Canada. This translates into, at best, a very modest increase in shoreline protection cost, which by any standard is simply part of living on the waterfront.
Ultimately, this is an opportunity that New York, and New York’s business community, literally can’t afford to miss. And 15,000 New Yorkers have already pledged their support to Plan 2014. We need to get more on board and tell our elected leaders to approve the plan so businesses and the entire upstate economy can start reaping the rewards.
Robert W. Hurlbut is president and CEO of Hurlbut Care Communities. His family has owned shoreline property on Lake Ontario for over 70 years.
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