Cleaning up Grand River may cost billions

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A view of downtown Grand Rapids from the Grand River's western bank. (File photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Restore the rapids, open up the banks to the public and clean up the water: That’s the general plan for the Grand River in Grand Rapids.

The Grand River Restoration Project is an eye-opener with an eye-opener of a price tag. None of the plans for the river are set in stone yet, but organizers have been crunching some numbers, including for how much it would cost to clean up the river.

“If you looked at what it would take to ideally, totally clean up the watershed, you’re talking about ‘B’s — billions of dollars,” Grand River Restoration Steering Committee member Jim Talen said.

That initial cost — spread over decades and through regions that line the Grand River — provides an idea of the scope of the project.

Among the plans for the river: Remove dams and impediments to restore the rapids, create new paths and public access along the river, and buy up properties along the river for recreation-related development.

Tuesday morning, the Steering Committee gave Grand Rapids city commissioners an update on their progress. They answered the commission’s “what’s next?’ questions.

The Steering Committee suggested the appointment of a conservancy to manage the project — a nonprofit group that would provide accountability and guidance to the process.

“Normally, a conservancy consists of many folks from around the community, various parts of the community,” Steering Committee member Joe Jones explained.

They didn’t provide any specifics about who would pay for the undertaking, but taxpayers would surely be part of the plan in the form of federal and state grants and city contributions. Philanthropists would be an obvious piece of the fundraising puzzle, as well.

So far, there has not been any talk of a specific local tax to fund the effort.

“One thing I can promise is that we will leave no stone unturned in terms of tying to find the necessary resources to properly restore the river,” Jones said.

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