Will proposed federal budget cuts impact Grand River restoration?

Posted at 4:16 PM, Apr 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-05 17:52:05-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Money flowing from Washington to help restore the Grand River through downtown Grand Rapids could slow to a drip if the Trump administration's proposed federal budget cuts are approved.

The $35 million plan to restore the rapids, remove dams and improve public access to the river is being managed by the non-profit Grand Rapids Whitewater organization. Matt Chapman, the project coordinator, says it's too early to know for sure how the proposed cuts might impact long-term funding.

"Certainly we are paying attention to what’s happening in Washington," Chapman told FOX 17. “It does create a little bit of uncertainty."

Chapman says roughly $6 million has been secured for the project through public-private partnerships, donations and grants. In January, the project received its first wave of federal funding—roughly $4 million—from the USDA.

That leaves roughly $20 million unfunded. Chapman said the organization expected about half of that to come from federal funding, primarily by way of grant money through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI.

Last month, the Trump administration announced a proposal to eliminate funding entirely for the GLRI, which distributes money for environmental work and clean-up to more than a half dozen states in the Great Lakes region.

More than 60 members of Congress from both parties have decried the proposed cuts, including U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, a vocal Trump supporter and co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force, who has said the funding should remain at its current level of $300 million.

"In an era where federal spending must be prioritized, I believe the GLRI, which has a history of proven results and strong bipartisan support, should continue to be a national priority," Huizenga said in a statement provided to FOX 17 by a spokesperson.

"The health and vitality of the Great Lakes is instrumental to having a productive Great Lakes economy that creates good-paying jobs and sustained economic growth."

Chapman said he's "encouraged" by the bi-partisan support, but also acknowledges many of the public-private partnerships that have helped secure most of the current funding might require even deeper pockets in the future.

“When it comes to federal funding, there’s a variety of sources and that’s one we’re watching," he said. “We’ve always been deliberate about trying to diversify the sources and West Michigan is very well known for creating successful public-private partnerships."

But not everyone sees potential issue with the proposed cuts, including Barbara Damore, president of the Westside Connection neighborhood association.

"We’re not so happy about turning our Grand River into a kayaking sports field here," Damore told FOX 17 in response to this story being aired. "I'm happy [Trump] might put the brakes on this."

Any construction is still at least two years away, according to Chapman, who says he remains optimistic about the potential success of the project.

"From a conservation standpoint, we hope to see some of those funds restored just because they’ve been funds that have been so hugely successful," he said. "[The river] is great asset that we have and it flows right through our city and were excited about the opportunity to restore it."

The restoration project is a major component of the GR Forward 10-year plan.