A Recent Study Explores the Economic Value of the Fox Locks System
In October 2017, a study on the Economic Impact of the Fox Locks was published by Dr. David L. Fuller from the Department of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
In his study, Dr. Fuller uses a modeling approach to calculate the economic impact of the completed improvement work on the Fox River lock system since 2005. The study then estimates the future economic impact of the lock system under four scenarios; 1) the Menasha and Rapide Croche locks remain closed, 2) the Rapide Croche lock is opened while the Menasha lock remains closed, 3) the Rapide Croche lock remains closed while the Menasha lock is opened, and 4) both the Rapide Croche and Menasha lock are opened.
Through his calculations, the fourth scenario (both Rapide Croche and Menasha are opened) would result in an estimated additional $290 million dollars in total economic output over a ten year period. This would include an estimated $176 million in additional labor income, $99 million in additional business investment, and 6,339 additional jobs. This fourth scenario requires the construction of a $1.8 million dollar Visitor Center that has been approved by the Fox River Navigational System Authority (for more info on the proposed visitor center, CLICK HERE).
The Rapide Croche lock was sealed in 1988 to prevent the spread of AIS from Green Bay into Lake Winnebago, most notably, the sea lamprey. While Rapide Croche will not be “re-opened”, there is a proposal to build a boat transfer station at this lock. The Fox River Navigational System Authority (FRNSA) is planning on constructing an estimated $3.8 million dollar boat transfer station designed to decontaminate vessels from aquatic invasive species (AIS).
How does the Round Goby play into this scenario?
While the estimated economic output would be a boost to the region, its important to also consider the value of protecting the Winnebago Lakes from invasive species, such as the round goby. A 2006 economic study was jointly done by the economic department of UW-Green Bay, UW-Extension and the DNR. It estimated that fishing alone on the four pool lakes of the Winnebago system had a total economic impact of $234 million dollars annually to Calumet, Fond du Lac, Outagamie, Waushara and Winnebago counties and supported 4300 jobs in those counties (CLICK HERE to see the report). This study was also done 10 years ago and so it is estimated that this number has increased in that time period (taking inflation into account, the value would be $276 million annually today). This, or some portion of it, is what is at risk if gobies are able to establish in the Winnebago system.
The Menasha lock was closed by FRNSA at the request of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in order to stop the spread of the invasive Round Goby into Lake Winnebago. This fish was found in Little Lake Butte des Morts in August 2015. The finding of a round goby in the lake triggered a large scale sampling response to confirm the presence of round gobies and to see if, in fact, there were more than one goby in the lake.
While the closure of the Menasha lock has frustrated many people, the lock was closed in order to help prevent the spread of round gobies into the Winnebago System. The decision was made in order to be consistent with NR40 regulations and FRNSA’s goal to; “work with the latest science, experts, and representatives from the DNR to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species into the Lake Winnebago system”. FRNSA is also working to create a realistic plan to resume operation of the Menasha lock to allow passage of boats between Little Lake Butte des Morts and Lake Winnebago while still protecting Winnebago from invasion by the gobies. Several plans have been suggested and are under further consideration. Their full mission and additional details on resuming operation of the Menasha lock can be found HERE.
We should also keep in mind that there are other factors to consider when discussing the economic impact of the Fox Locks. Dr. Fuller put it best in his Economic Impacts of the Fox Locks study when he states,
“It is also worth noting that the analysis in this report characterizes the potential gains from different levels of functionality of the Lock, assuming the necessary AIS protections are in place. In this regard, this report focuses only on characterizing the potential economic gains; as a result, it is not a cost-benefit analysis. A full cost-benefit analysis would require estimating models to quantify the varying probabilities of AIS issues potentially propagated by the Locks, as well as estimating their potential economic costs. While AIS protections may utilized, as with all bodies of water, there exists some risk of potential AIS issues. The economic impact numbers presented in this report should be considered relative to these potential future costs.”
Dr. Fuller’s work displays the large economic benefit that the Fox Locks system can provide to the local economy. The Winnebago System is immensely valuable to a wide variety of users and its economic impact should not be overlooked. It is important to ensure that we protect this valuable resource while enjoying both the economic and intrinsic value that it brings.
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Winnebago Waterways is a Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance program. The Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance is an independent nonprofit organization that identifies and advocates effective policies and actions that protect, restore, and sustain water resources in the Fox-Wolf River Basin.
This article was written by Chris Acy, the AIS Coordinator for the Winnebago Waterways Program covering Calumet, Winnebago, and Fond du Lac counties.