River restoration work could begin in 2017

A bird's eye view of the Blue Bridge crossing the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids. (File photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been talked about for years. And now, the light at the end of the Grand River restoration project tunnel is getting much brighter.

“This crazy idea took root and is coming to fruition,” said Chip Richards, co-founder of Grand Rapids White Water, the group that has been pushing the effort to bring rapids back to the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.

Tuesday, Grand Rapids City Commissioners approved a request to allow the city engineer to apply for the various permits needed to make the project a reality.

That action will help cut down on the lengthy roll of red tape supporters of the plan need to cut through. It also helps provide a better timeline for the estimated $34 million project.

“And that would have us in the river doing construction in 2017 calendar year,” said Jay Steffen, assistant city planner and the city’s point person on the river restoration project.

The work would be done in phases. The first is to create adjustable barriers to control the flow about a mile upstream from downtown, followed by the removal of the 6th Street Dam.

Once that is done crews would bring in the cobble, bolder and other impediments that would help create rapids in the river.

“So likely the construction of those river improvements is roughly 2018, 2019 — that is if everything goes well, which we are very hopeful about,” said Steffen.

How the work will be paid for is still being figured out.

The plan is to split the cost with a third picked up by the city, one-third by the state and the final third from the federal government.

City officials hope to know by February 2016 if Grand Rapids is selected to receive part of a $1 billion Disaster Resilience Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for communities trying to prevent flooding issues. Those funds could be used for the portion of the project that would help control floodwaters.

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