Environmental Valuation and Decision-making

Oftentimes resource stewards, agencies, and public groups are interested in understanding the value of a natural resource under different conditions. This information maybe used directly to support an outcome determination or as an input to understanding funding and outreach needs. Veritas has participated in a number of studies such as those described below.

Example Projects

Benefits of Reducing Western Lake Erie Hazardous Algal Blooms

With its proximity to the industrial centers of Ohio and Michigan, western Lake Erie has been important for industry and transportation since the 1900’s. Although years of industrial use degraded the lake, Clean Water Act (CWA) implementation led to its recovery and restored western Lake Erie as the world’s largest freshwater fishery and an attractive place for boating and beach-going. Despite this recovery, recent years have seen the return of hazardous algal blooms (HABs) to western Lake Erie. HABs are out-of-control algae that clog and discolor waterbodies and can be toxic. Warm water and excessive nutrient releases contribute to HABs and these factors are increasing in many areas. Nutrient loading to western Lake Erie is driven by Ohio’s Maumee River. Unfortunately, unlike the “point sources” regulated under the CWA, the nutrients that feed these HABs come from disparate sources; reducing them can be complex and expensive.

The International Joint Commission (IJC) was interested in understanding the economic implications of western Lake Erie HABs. The IJC engaged Veritas Economics along with Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc. (ECT) and Frank Lupi of Michigan State University to evaluate the relationship between HABs in western Lake Erie and the economics of recreation, water withdrawals, tourism, property values, income and employment. Results indicate substantial impacts in Ohio, Michigan, and Canada. Ultimately, implementation of the H2Ohio plan will substantially reduce nutrients entering western Lake Erie. However, HABs continue to form during the summer months, including another large bloom during 2019.

Nuiqsut Subsistence Economics

Nuiqsut is a Native American (Inuit) community in Alaska’s North Slope Borough, about 35 miles from the Beaufort Sea. This previously abandoned Inupiat village was resettled in 1973 by 27 families from Barrow. Nuiqsut residents meet their needs through local employment, oil royalties, and subsistence hunting and fishing. Oil development improves access to hunting grounds but can also impact quality of life.

ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc. undertook a study of costs that Nuiqsut residents incur to continue subsistence activities. Veritas joined Northern Economics, ASRC Energy Services, and Applied Sociocultural Research to support this evaluation. Veritas developed an economic model of a mixed (subsistence/market) economy that estimates the impact of changes in availability of subsistence resources on Nuiqsut residents. The approach employs a linked household and site choice utility function. The utility of each activity was identified by utility elicitation items on questionnaires completed by Nuiqsut residents.

Boardman River Dams Decision-Making

The Sabine, Boardman, and Brown Bridge Dams were constructed to generate power from the Boardman River, Michigan, in 1867. When Traverse City Light and Power did not renew the dams’ leases, their uncertain fate precipitated formation of the Boardman River Dams Committee (BRDC). This group of property owners, private citizens, agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and scientific experts was searching for cost-effective, environmentally and socially responsible dam-management outcomes.

In support of the BRDC, Veritas developed socioeconomic simulation models to evaluate the recreation, property value, and employment implications of 81 different dam-management scenarios. Results were communicated in detailed reports, presentations, and council meeting discussions. The resulting Boardman River Dams Ecosystem Restoration Project  is removing all of the dams to maximize the cumulative benefit of reconnecting 160 miles of cold-water habitat and restoring hundreds of acres of wetland and upland habitat.  This comprehensive dam removal and restoration project is one of the largest such projects in the Great Lakes Basin.

Doe Mountain Conservation and Recreation Strategy

Doe Mountain, located just southwest of Mountain City in Johnson County, Tennessee, is home to some 40 species of rare plants and animals, as well as deer, turkey, and black bear. When Doe Mountain was offered for sale, the densely forested 8,600-acre mountain was one of the largest remaining privately owned blocks of forest in the Southern Blue Ridge region. The Nature Conservancy and State of Tennessee collaborated to purchase Doe Mountain with the intention of preserving it and making it available for public enjoyment.

The Nature Conservancy engaged Golder and Veritas to support their decision-making. Veritas evaluated the tourism, recreation, income and employment implications of operating Doe Mountain under various levels of trail-based recreation. The now sustainably developed Doe Mountain Recreation Area features 8,600 acres of protected mountain wilderness with multi-use trails for off-highway vehicles, horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking.

Foley Plant Widespread Adverse Economic Impacts

When Buckeye Technologies’ Foley Pulp plant came to Tayler County, Florida, in 1951, it was drawn by wood, water, labor, rail access – and the 1947 designation of the Fenholloway as an industrial river. As planners hoped, the Foley plant became embedded in the economic fabric of Tayler County. The plant combines a unique, proprietary process with locally planted pine trees to produce specialty fibers that generate millions of dollars in annual revenues. The plant supports numerous jobs in an area that otherwise has limited employment opportunities. It also provides thousands of acres of forested recreation area for hunting.

Despite its decades of successful operations, the plant found itself in violation of Florida’s surface water transparency standards. When engineering assessments determined that no available technology would reduce the pine tannins that cause discharge discoloration the plant’s operating status and therefore the viability of communities in Tayler County were under threat. Buckeye sought a variance based on the “widespread economic impacts” that would accompany closing the plant. Veritas used economic data, and interviews to support input/output modeling in IMPLAN in order to develop a detailed representation and reporting of the Foley plant’s role in the local community. This representation is based on economic linkages from the plant through employees and local suppliers. Veritas used this approach to produce qualitative estimates of the metrics that now appear in EPA spreadsheets on the topic of adverse widespread economic impacts. Veritas’ analysis evaluated changes in jobs, economic impacts, county unemployment rate, share of residents living below poverty level, expenditures on public welfare and tax revenue.

The results of this analysis were incorporated in a report that also presented data and methods in a clear and convincing manner. The plant was granted a variance and continues to operate providing jobs, recreation land, opportunity, and various unique pulp products used in numerous consumer products throughout the world.

Clinton River Interrupted Flow Integrated Assessment

The Upper Clinton and Clinton Main Sub-watersheds of the Clinton River Watershed contain 21 separate impoundments/lakes. Most of these have a court-authorized level that is set independently from the other lakes in the system. As a result there is no comprehensive management plan to optimize system performance that addresses the varying stakeholder objectives within the system.  In fact, the multiple independent operating plans are often contradictory and lead to abrupt, unnatural changes in water level which adversely affect recreation, fish and wildlife habitats, and property.  Along with Lawrence Technological University and Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc. (ECT), Veritas participated in an integrated assessment to address the causes, consequences and correctives of interrupted flows in the Clinton River watershed system. The assessment resulted in tools and metrics that can be used by the policy makers to identify and evaluate flow management and to build consensus for revised flow management policies within the watershed.

Michigan Small Harbors Sustainability

The economic sustainability of small harbors was defined in this study as the ability of the harbors to be self-perpetuating and economically vibrant in a way that is consistent with good environmental stewardship and community desires. Thus considered, economic sustainability interweaves with social and environmental sustainability. Although historically low water levels and loss of federal funding for harbor dredging precipitated the project, study efforts revealed that economic sustainability of small harbor is many faceted. In the six case-study harbor towns, this includes shrinking jobs and population, poor local market capture, under-utilization of natural resources leading to difficulty capturing recreational revenue, and difficulties funding harbor maintenance. Multiple project partners participated in the study, along with a support team for the workshops (charrettes) where the public and decision makers provided vision.

The small harbor towns included in the study were selected because the town/harbor was not considered sustainable or the community did not take full advantage of possibilities to enhance economic sustainability. Better utilization of these communities’ natural advantages likely would lead to future economic sustainability and vibrancy. In all cases, the charrette process provided an environment where the local population and decision makers could jointly consider the future of the communities. This joint visioning process identified socially sustainable (i.e., mutually agreeable) choices for each community and its harbor. Besides providing a forum for developing social consensus, the charrette process resulted in specific infrastructure possibilities that were subjected to economic evaluation.