BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kalamazoo River restoration project near downtown Battle Creek just got a big boost from state lawmakers with an appropriation in this year’s state budget.  

The budget passed late last week by the legislature includes $13 million for naturalizing the Kalamazoo River. The funding will go to Battle Creek Unlimited to study environmental impacts, purchase property along a portion of the Kalamazoo River just south of downtown and remove two manufacturing facilities that are no longer in use.

The river is currently fenced off between Fountain Street and the confluence with the Battle Creek River due to a cement channel that surrounds the river that was built in the 1960’s as flood control.

City staff who have been working on this project for over a decade say removing the concrete will totally change the dynamic of downtown Battle Creek.

“It’s underutilized. I think it’s a bit of an eyesore, it’s an economic development barrier,” said Ted Dearing, the assistant city manager. “I think naturalizing the river on the south end of downtown creates a whole new set of opportunities to redevelop that portion of our downtown and bring not only tourism on the river itself but bring residential, mixed-use development, all those things that make an active, vibrant downtown.”

Dearing said they’re working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make sure flood control remains a priority.  

“What we won’t do is compromise the existing flood control. So that might mean that whatever the configuration looks like it maintains the current level of flood control,” Dearing said. “So we’re not worried about it from that perspective. I think the real question is what would a cross section of the river look like under this new, naturalized version that maintains flood control.”

The assistant city manager said the naturalization process is still several years off. The city is waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do an analysis of existing conditions and give them options on what they may be able to do. That’s expected to come sometime later this fall.