Study: Powerboat trip from big lake to GR is possible

grand river, grand rapids, drone 8
Grand Rapids can be seen in the distance in this view of the Grand River from Drone 8. (file)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The ability to take your bow rider or pontoon boat for a leisurely spin up the Grand River from Lake Michigan to downtown Grand Rapids may become a reality.

A recently released study by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Department of Technology, Management and Budget gives an indication of what dredging more than 20 miles of the river from Allendale to Grand Rapids would involve.

Supporters say the feasibility study is a starting point for what’s possible.

“We absolutely agree the river is one of the most underutilized resources that we have in our region,” said Shana Shroll of Grand River Waterway, the private group promoting motor boat use on the Grand. “The problems is once you don’t have access to the river in a recreational sense, you sort of take it for granted.”

Currently, powerboating is limited to an area west of the Bass Lake Inlet near Allendale. Dredging would open up another 22.5 miles of river to powerboats all the way to downtown Grand Rapids.

The idea would seem to fit well with efforts in Grand Rapids to boost the river’s use.

Along with opening up motor access to sections of the Grand in Ottawa County, the dredging would stop short of where rapid restoration and other public improvements are planned but would continue up to the front door of development that may happen at sites like 201 Market. That’s the 16-acre city public works yard along the river that city leaders would like to see used for something other than storing salt piles.

A report commissioned by local developer Dan Hibma says the project, which could create a depths of between five and seven feet for larger boats to navigate, could bring $4.2 million to the economy.

Dredging parts of the Grand is not a new idea. The Army Corps of Engineers released a similar study in the late 1970s, but the price tag was around $18 million at the time. Estimates put this project at $2.1 million, with annual upkeep costs of $165,000. The difference in cost is related to advances that allow more pinpointed dredging.

“Now we have the technology that gives us a really great tool at seeing exactly what the bottom of the river look like,” Shroll said.

How it would be paid for and who would support dredging is still unknown.

One group with serious concerns is the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

“The report does not address all of the issues,” WMEAC Director of Water Programs Elaine Isely said.

She said powerboats don’t always mix well with kayaks, canoes and the natural state of waterways.

Also of concern is what would be dredged up. Isley said past studies have indicated the presence of some toxic settlement on the bottom of the river.

Schroll promises those concerns will be answered.

“The next step is to do an environmental study,” Schroll said. “We want to make sure environmentally this would be good for the entire community. That’s what the main driving goal is.”

As for local buy-in from groups backing river development like Downtown Grand Rapids Inc and the city, Schroll says it’s early in the process for any of that. She was set to meet with city officials Monday afternoon.