GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Don’t expect to sail the big waves through downtown Grand Rapids. The plan to create recreational rapids in a portion of the Grand River downtown is gone.
Restoring the rapids was a major part of the City of Grand Rapids’ overall effort to make the Grand River the focal point of downtown revitalization. But state regulators have rejected the idea of placing rocks and other impediments in the river to create those rapids.
“We really thought we had a design that everybody had agreed to and we were going forward with. So yeah… it’s disappointing,” said Steve Heacock, President and CEO of Grand Rapids WhiteWater, the nonprofit in charge of creating a section of the Grand River where the public could experience whitewater rafting — especially tourists.
Restoring the rapids was expected to help generate some $22 million in tourism dollars for Grand Rapids.
But despite years of planning, including discussions with the State’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy on what was and wasn’t acceptable, EGLE rejected the city of Grand Rapids’ permits for the overall project, telling the city to write up a new plan.
It came down to the rocks and other material needed to create the rapids.
“The state, EGLE, has never been comfortable with the waves. The waves’ structure themselves,” said Heacock. “There were 11 waves at one time. Then there were 4. We lowered the height. We did all these things to make them acceptable. And we never had a really good understanding why they were permittable under the law.”
The decision has set the river restoration project back about a year.
City officials are confident the reworked permit application, which will still seek to take out low-rise dams and other impediments to make the river more people friendly, will eventually get state approval.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work that has to happen to achieve that goal. And a lot of design work and effort that’s in front of us. But we’re committed to delivering that,” said Grand Rapids City Engineer Tim Burkman.
But what about Grand Rapids WhiteWater’s commitment to the overall project?
“Our board met this week in a special meeting and said, you know, yeah, it’s not what our vision was and not what we’ve talked about and dreamed about for these years. But it is worth doing,” said Heacock.
About $10 million in private funds have been donated or pledge to Grand Rapids WhiteWater.
Heacock said he’s reached out to donors, and the money will stay.
“They’re disappointed. They’re sorry this is happening. But on the other hand, they’re still with the project and will stay involved. We’ve not had anybody withdrawal their pledge,” said Heacock.