Grand River plan could dredge up $57M for economy

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The effort to open and expand a nearly 23-mile section of the Grand River west of downtown Grand Rapids is moving forward.

It involves dredging portions of the Grand River to allow more recreation on portions of the river, including power boats. This week, a study revealed what the economic impact on the area could be.

The Grand River Waterway project says a study funded by a Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant suggests dredging the river beyond downtown Grand Rapids could add $57 million to the local economy over a decade.

Recreational boaters would generate a large portion of that spending.  

“People coming to this region to spend time on their boats that maybe wouldn’t have before. Or they will stay here rather than go somewhere else,” said Shana Shroll, Grand River Waterways executive director.

The report also found residential property values along the section of the river between the Fulton Street Bridge in Grand Rapids and the Bass Lake inlet near Allendale could rise close to 17 percent with a more maneuverable river. 

Nearly 23 miles of the river is closed to just about everything except canoes and kayaks. However, a 50-feet-wide, 7-feet-deep dredge of the river would open it up.

An earlier study by the Army Corp of Engineers says it can be done at a cost of over $2 million. But that’s only the beginning of what’s expected to be a long-term project. 

“We definitely want to make sure that we’re taking our time and doing everything right. The last thing you want to do is get too far into a project and then have to dial everything back because you missed a step,” said Shroll.

There are environmental concerns.

Along with the noise and erosion caused by motorized watercraft, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council has expressed concerns over the effects of dredging up all the bad stuff that may be on the bottom of the river. The Grand River Waterway Project is using part of the MEDC grant to study environmental issues.

There’s also the question of who covers the price tag if the project becomes reality. Along with the $2.15 million price tag, annual maintenance costs are estimated at about $165,000 a year. 

But supporters say the economic impact study will help sell future investment in the project.

“Talking about is it worth the investment? We think that it is,” said Shroll.

While Grand River Waterway has briefed Grand Rapids City Officials on the plan, the project is not connected to efforts to restore the river north of Fulton Street.   

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