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The Price Tag of the River

May 10, 2011Joanne RichardsonUncategorizedComments Off on The Price Tag of the River

Guest Blog Entry by Andrea Long.

Recently I’ve heard a growing public discussion on strategies that will change the way users are charged for public goods and services. As a graduate student in Urban/Regional Planning, I’ve long been exposed to the concept of Value Capture – trying to get a user to pay the full price for a service or infrastructure they use. The base argument for Value Capture is that users gain more benefit from public infrastructure or services (e.g. highway roads) than they pay in for them (revenue from gasoline tax, title/plate fees, etc.). Value Capture has long-stood in theory form, and now seems to be inching towards reality.

Academics embrace Value Capture (the U of M’s Center for Transportation Studies has released increasing amounts of research since the early 2008), and now it appears that public sector entities- yes, those currently suffering from tightening and constrained budgets- are taking the bait.

In late April Minnesota Public Radio covered a metro area test that will measure the miles driven by 500 GPS-equipped vehicles. This test will compare potential revenue from a miles-based fee as opposed to the current gasoline tax structure; the test is an effort to hedge vehicle fuel efficiency innovations that threaten to reduce future gasoline tax revenue. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has long measured the value impact of parks access on adjacent properties, reporting a 20% value increase to properties proximate to parks over the past 10 years. Additionally, parks are cited as one of the great ‘draw’ features that attracts new residents the Twin Cities. Now the park board is looking to capitalize on the value that parks bring to the community. A bill that would excise a fee for new development within the city or a fee-per-employee is working its way through the Legislature; this bill is intended to provide more money to the park board for land acquisition and park improvements in the future. This is not direct value capture, but it is a direct move by the park board to capitalize on the benefit that their services and amenities provide to the larger region.

So what in the world do these value capture iterations have to do with a blog about rivers? Everything.

What does access to the river or a water body mean to you? If you do not own land or a business on or near a water feature, but visit it for leisure, recreation, etc., you are not paying for the value you derive from it. You are also not fully paying for the way your home, vehicle or lifestyle pollute it. Nor the wildlife you enjoy watching that inhabit a river’s ecosystem or navigate its stretches. Nor most any of the other environmental, economic and social benefits that a river contributes to society.

I am not advocating the institution of a value capture-based feed to access aquatic amenities- but I am asking you to stop and think about the value that rivers, streams and lakes bring to your life.

If testing ‘value capture’ is a wave of the future, how does one even begin to put a price tag on a river?

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