Federal Government Backs Plan To ‘Restore The Rapids’

Posted at 8:44 PM, May 10, 2013

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.– The effort to restore the rapids got a big boost Friday, after being added to the Urban Waters Federal Partnership. Members of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior were just some of the agencies on hand for the announcement.

Grand Rapids is just 1 of 11 other projects added to the partnership, but it was in Grand Rapids they chose to make the annoucment.

It was about 5 years ago the two founders of “Grand Rapids White Water” had the idea to restore the rapids and now to see the federal government involved; it gives them the drive to move forward.

“I think it gives us horse power to get it done, both for technical expertise, permitting as well as for potential fundraising” said Chris Muller co-founder of GRWW.

Mayor George Heartwell, says the timeline to get the project started could come even sooner, the earliest the summer of 2014.

“It breaks the barrier, there are still issues we have to resolve some engineering issues. You heard the concern over the invasive species the sea lamprey we have to fix that somehow or this project won’t go forward. So those are things we need to do now before there can be any permits issued.”

The plan is to re-connect people with their waterways, get the grand back into a natural state and better the relationship between the economy and ecology in the city. Something supporters say would create jobs, improve fishery and bring more business into downtown.

The project would include restoring the original riverbed, building a new barrier to keep sea lamprey from moving up-stream and removing 5 downtown dams, including the 4th St. Dam, which has raised a lot of questions.

Suzanne Schulz, Grand Rapids Planning Director says “every piece of infrastructure has a lifespan and so the dam has lasted a long time and I think it’s reasonable to suspect that at some point in the next decade or two were really going to have to evaluate that life span. So, the timing is good to talk about restoring the rapids to the river and the value of the dam.”

The dam is some 160 years old and the GRWW says the last time it was really worked on was 90 years ago, the group says it’s not even a functioning dam anymore. That’s why supporters say now more than ever, it’s time to be pro-active.

The estimated price tag of the project is about 27 million dollars, the mayor says no one brought their checkbook and he wasn’t expecting that. Instead Friday’s announcement shows the federal government is interested in the project, Heartwell says he is also confident in private funding to help.

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