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County Parks Commission opposes Grand River Waterway Project

• Apr 18, 2019 at 4:00 PM

As commissioners on the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Commission for over 10 years, we’ve helped make decisions to preserve 2,700 acres of beautiful park land along the Grand River — much of it in eastern Ottawa County — as part of the Grand River Greenway. Ottawa County Parks also established the Grand River Heritage Water Trail and installed a series of universally accessible kayak launches to help make it accessible to everyone.

The Grand River east of the Bass River is a quieter stretch, enjoyed by paddlers, sightseers on pontoon boats, fishermen and passengers of the Grand Lady River Boat, as well as by hikers and others using the county parks along the way. The river corridor is abundant with wildlife, and the river itself is home to rare species of fish and mussels.

This quiet enjoyment of the river by people and wildlife is threatened by the Grand River Waterway’s plan to dredge and channelize the river from the mouth of the Bass River to the Fulton Street Bridge in Grand Rapids — a distance of about 22.5 miles. The goal of the project is to promote use of the river by large boats up to 49 feet in length. The plan is to dig a 50-foot-wide, 7-foot-deep channel that would require extensive buoys to keep boaters from running aground.

Why not let everyone, including the larger boats, enjoy access to the river?

First of all, the river is naturally too shallow for deeper-draft boats. Altering the natural river corridor brings great risks with unknown and unforeseeable impacts to the ecosystem of the river. The dredging will destroy habitat used by fish and other wildlife that live in the river. Local anglers may find fish populations depleted, as the gravel bars some species use for spawning will be destroyed. Channelizing the river will change river flows in ways that cannot be predicted, increasing bankside erosion and loss of land and vegetation.

Currently, people with large boats can enjoy Lake Michigan, Spring Lake and the Grand River up to the Bass River. Ottawa County Parks has done a lot of park planning over the years and accepted a great deal of public input at meetings and through surveys, and we’ve never heard a public outcry for additional deep water for boating. Actually, the opposite has been true with people expressing a desire for preserving nature and looking for places to hike and paddle and enjoy the natural world.

Large boats making the long trip upriver will almost surely disrupt their enjoyment of the river as the channelizing will disrupt the natural system and wildlife that relies on the river. And the boat wakes created by an increase in large boat traffic will erode river banks that cannot tolerate continued wave action.

Millions of dollars in public funds have been invested into improving water quality, and this may set us back years. We would argue that there is no need for the river dredging and the project risks doing great harm to the environment. Public tax dollars allocated in the lame-duck session with no public input can be better spent, as can the money that will need to be spent annually on maintenance dredging, installing and reinstalling hundreds of buoys, and increased river patrols. Who is going to pay for all of these extra costs?

Channelizing the Grand River to allow large boat traffic to Grand Rapids is ill-conceived, short-sighted, and may cause irreparable harm to a river many have worked so hard to restore — all for highly dubious benefits. We urge you to oppose the dredging and to let your state legislators know how you feel.

About the writers: David VanGinhoven, president, and Roger Jonas, vice president, have each served on the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission for more than 10 years. On April 3, the commission passed a resolution in opposition to the Grand River Waterway project.

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