Feds want your input on removing small Grand River dams

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Regis Trefelner has been fishing the Grand River near the 6th Street dam for about four years.

So he’s interested in how restoring the rapids will impact his efforts to land the big one.

The dam provides good fishing, and will likely be replaced with a structure that supports fishing — like a hydraulic wall that can be raised and lowered — as the restoration projects move forward.

But the four smaller coffer dams located south of the big dam tend to get in the way of Trefelner’s sport.

“The coffer dams usually run pretty high this time of year. But when the water goes down, it’s a lot harder for some of the boats to make it to and from the coffers,” said Trefelner.

As projects connected to restoring the rapids move forward, various stakeholders will be asking for public input. The latest is the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Beginning Tuesday, it will begin accepting public input on a plan to take out the smaller dams.

Put in decades ago to slow the river down, the smaller dams need to come out as part of the rapid restoration effort.

“There have been a number of rescues out in the river. It’s difficult to recreate in the river when we have such a safety hazard. But the dams also prevent natural fish passage and natural ecological functions of the river that we’re trying to restore,” said Matt Chapman, the project manager for Grand Rapids WhiteWater.

But the dams are considered historical, and since the USDA agency is kicking in $4.1 million of the $50 million estimated cost of the overall project, the rules call for the public comment.

“They will then sort through them and decide which comments are applicable to the mitigation plan, or if we need to go back and actually revise that mitigation plan,” said Chapman. 

Launched in 2009, Grand Rapids WhiteWater, the lead group on the project, shows progress at about the halfway point.

Vision and design are completed.

But that’s on paper.

Now, the long process of satisfying an alphabet list of federal and state agency’s permit requirements is under way. 

Public input over the series of small dams that most people don’t notice may not seem like a big deal. But with a project of this scale, every bit of public input is important, as is a recognition that this is not an overnight process.

“What we tell people is to be patient, to continue to be excited, continue to support it,” said Chapman. “It is an incredibly complex process.”

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