On Monday night, City Council approved an agreement with Abonmarche Engineering to begin work on the permitting process for the potential bulkhead expansion at Waterfront Stadium, which would extend it 29 feet farther out into the Grand River.
“This is a considerable investment and a considerable risk, and we don't know if we'll be approved for this," City Manager Pat McGinnis said. "The regulators are not very enthusiastic."
The city would apply for a joint permit from the U.S. Army Corps and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and would then go through the process of proving the benefits and that there would be no negative environmental impact.
City officials say there are positive public benefits to extending the bulkhead and few to none negative impacts. However, they note that the regulatory scheme is complex.
Reasons cited for wanting to extend the bulkhead include:
— A new alignment would align it with the existing dock lengths at Municipal Marina, providing protection for waterfowl seeking refuge from choppy water along the marina most of the year and protecting boats moored at the marina.
— The proposed extension would give more space at Waterfront Stadium, and the public trust would be preserved due to the public access of the enhanced waterfront. There would also be more opportunity for demonstration, performance and competition at the stadium, and better docking opportunities along the water's edge.
— Officials also say the improvements would be environmentally neutral, as the existing condition is steel pilings driven into muck; and historical aerial views suggest prior occupation by warehousing.
"As City Council has discussed and directed, we want to take a good look at it," McGinnis said.
McGinnis noted that the city will have to eventually make repairs to the bulkhead and storm drain outfalls, and officials say it would make sense to apply for an expansion of the bulkhead now in order to tie any project in with the needed repairs.
The $19,500 agreement calls for Abonmarche engineers to review available site data, prepare a preliminary seawall design, apply for necessary permits and respond to any inquiries from regulators. The firm will also survey the environment, looking for threatened and/or endangered species.
"We'll have divers out there looking at the ecosystem, verifying what the habitat is down there," McGinnis said. "We have to make sure there's not endangered mussels in the muck."