GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The $45 million plan to restore the rapids to the Grand River through downtown Grand Rapids could be delayed up to a year because of state and federal regulations, the leader of the project said on Monday.
“I’m a stupid optimist, so I believe it can start in 2020, but it’s probably more realistic to say 2021,” said Steve Heacock, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Whitewater, which is spearheading the plan.
That could push the completion date for the entire project — which would stretch from Fulton Street north to Ann Street — beyond the original target date of 2025, he said.
Organizers are working with seven state and federal agencies — from the Michigan Department of Transportation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — for the permits needed for the project, Heacock said.
Part of the process included Monday’s open house at DeVos Place, held by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is studying the project’s environmental impact.
“It literally impacts, we hope, every person in the region and so it’s time for them to have a voice in where the project’s going and what’s going to happen,” Heacock said of the open house.
One major hurdle is the invasive sea lamprey. It’s not only ugly, but it clings to fish and sucks the life out of them.
Lampreys run the Grand River from Lake Michigan to the Sixth Street dam, which blocks their path.
“You need to stop the sea lampreys from going further,” said Ted Lawrence of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
The question is: How do you stop them after the dam is removed to restore the rapids?
“The concern is that it would open up sea lampreys’ spawning habitats beyond (the Sixth Street Dam), hundreds of miles of it, and the cost to control that would be prohibitive,” Lawrence said.
The city has proposed a hydraulic barrier between Leonard and Ann streets to block the lampreys’ path.
But that needs federal approval.
Grand Rapids Whitewater had hoped to start the first phase next year — from Fulton Street north to I-196.
The Army Corps of Engineers also wants to make sure the project doesn’t block fish from making it upstream, or that it doesn’t make flooding worse.
Grand Rapids resident Chet Crisher said he was originally optimistic about the project, but now worries about the environmental impact.
“I didn’t realize that restoring the rapids was such a complex issue,” Crisher said. “The lamprey, having to control that. I never considered that.”
Despite the current unknowns, some are already imagining new opportunities on and along the Grand.
Chris Chamberlain is the captain of the Princess Riverboat in Lansing.
“We’d like to see more activity on the waterfront in Grand Rapids, Michigan and we have a boat that we think would fill that void in the market,” he said at Monday’s open house.
Chamberlain said they currently have riverboats in Detroit, Lansing and Grand Ledge. He brought a model riverboat to display at DeVos Place.
He’s not alone in wanting to see more activity on the Grand River in Grand Rapids.
Marc Gaden, communications director for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, said dozens of open house attendees talked about new recreational possibilities on and along the Grand River.
“There were a lot of people that actually could envision a transformed downtown,” Gaden said after the event ended. “Whether it made it more livable or walkable or a place to recreate.”
He said the roar of the rapids could attract new businesses and downtown residents.