GR spends millions on protections after 2013 floods

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Residents living along Abrigador Trail in Comstock Park are used to the Grand River rising every spring.

“I’ve lived down here 25 years, so I’ve seen a few of these,” said Trish Franklin, who pulled on a pair of waders Monday morning to make her way through the water to her home on Abrigador Trail. “I was going to originally buy hip waders, and just for safety, I got chest waders. “

Kent County Emergency Management Director Jack Stewart said Monday that flooding conditions were improving along the Grand River. As of mid-morning, the river was below flood stage in Grand Rapids and at moderate levels at Comstock Park.

“We’re just keeping an eye on things at this point,” Stewart said.

While current flood conditions pale in comparison, the historic flood of 2013 is still on the minds of those who had to deal with the aftermath.

“We learned a lot from that and we’re very well prepared,” Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said.

DeLong said the city has spent about $10 million to protect downtown and other portions of the city from the next big flood. After an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more commonly known as FEMA, the city has raised flood walls by as much as three feet in some areas. Controls have been added that keeps river water from backing up into the storm drain system, causing problems well beyond the riverbank.

Building owners are also boosting flood protection.

Remember the Plaza Towers fiasco? Flooding in that downtown building resulted in some residents being displaced for months.

An opening in the flood wall outside Plaza Towers is thought to be the cause. While the city and Plaza Towers owners continue to litigate who’s to blame, Plaza Tower owners have placed a large steel door in the opening to block floodwaters.

More work is planned. Part of GR Forward, which aims to make the riverfront the focal point for downtown, includes a series of improvements that allow better public access to the river, along with natural flood control measures.

Some of the work, like a berm along the east side of the river south of Leonard Street, has already been completed.

“Whenever we’re doing a project that’s called for in GR Forward, we’ll be able then to incorporate additional flood protection,” DeLong said. “It’s a way to make our dollars go further, and also to accomplish some really good public safety benefits, while we’re also accomplishing all the benefits of reactivating the river.”

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