Economic Development, Sustainability, and Travel & Tourism

DNR opts out of waterway project

Project would have dredged approximately 23-mile stretch of Grand River for recreational boat usage.

December 6, 2019
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The DNR voiced concerns that dredging the Grand River would disrupt fish habitat, natural vegetation and the general health of the river. Courtesy iStock

The Grand River Waterway project has lost crucial support in its effort to dredge the Grand River and make it navigable for powerboats.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently announced it will not pursue the controversial project, which would have dredged an approximately 23-mile stretch of river to make it more navigable for recreational shallow-draft boats. The project managed to gather opposition from various municipalities and environmental organizations.

Ed Golder, public information officer for the Michigan DNR, said the agency chose not to pursue the project after reviewing the project itself and input from a number of local communities and organizations.

“The risks to the economy and environment are too great,” Golder said. “Dredging such a significant portion of the Grand River would disrupt fish habitat, natural vegetation and the general health of the river. These natural resources are too important to all West Michigan residents and visitors to allow the project to move forward.”

The Grand River Waterway project’s advisory board chose last week to put a hold on its advocacy of the project, citing inaction by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources regarding soil sample testing.

According to a statement from Grand River Waterway, soil testing was necessary to determine the next step and would have given the state valuable information about the soil in the Grand River, i.e., the extent of PFAS in the soil and other potential contaminants.

“We are obviously disappointed that the DNR has not conducted the soil sampling,” said Dan Hibma, lead developer for Grand River Waterway. “Regardless of how one might view the proposed project, it would be important to all to have that study completed and better understand whether or not the project could move forward or not. GRWW has reached out to the DNR but has received no response. We realize that we can’t move forward if the DNR does not move forward.”

An earlier Business Journal report revealed the dredging project dug up a number of environmental opponents. The Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Commission adopted a resolution opposing the project in April 2019. The parks commission argued the project was likely to result in extensive and long-term damage to the river, adjacent wetlands, endangered species, historic sites and riverbank property.

Officials of the city of Grand Haven also expressed concern regarding the possible threat to its drinking water source beds at the mouth of the Grand River.

The West Michigan Environmental Action Council opposed the project for a number of municipal and environmental reasons. In a resolution issued in May 2019, WMEAC argued dredging the river would be more expensive than previously estimated, would undo Ottawa County’s multimillion-dollar investments to existing land use and would exacerbate the Grand River’s swift underflow, making nonmotorized boating even more dangerous.

WMEAC; the Michigan Department of Environmental, Great Lakes, and Energy; Department of Natural Resources; and other civic and environmental organizations sent a letter in May 2019 urging Michigan officials to oppose the project and prevent any further actions related to dredging from occurring.

The Business Journal reported in November 2018 Grand River Waterway commissioned an economic assessment on the project. According to the assessment, dredging would cost $2.1 million initially and $165,000 in annual maintenance and upkeep, and produce $5.7 million annually in economic impact.

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