Many upset over dredging project; Ottawa commissioners express views

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– PHOTOS BY?JEANNE VOLLMER

By Cynthia Price

Among the many bills passed during the Michigan lame duck session last year, there was a line item in the  appropriations budget to expand $2 million for “Grand River dredging.” Later reports said that the dredging enable something called the “Grand River Waterway” and is only part of nearly $3.5 million appropriated.

Touted as economic development that will enrich the area surrounding the 23 miles to be dredged to allow power boats and larger sailboats to traverse the area from Grand Rapids to Eastmanville, the Grand River Waterway turns out to be the project of developer Dan Hibma.

If his name sounds familiar, it may be because he is the husband of former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, as well as a powerful force in the Grand Rapids realtor community.

When word got out about the development, downstream people from stay-at-home moms to kayakers to charter captains to environmental experts found much in it that disturbed them.

There is a cascading series of environmental effects; dredging will alter and damage the riverbed, destroy habitat including that of endangered plants and animals, but will also wreak havoc with the water flow rates and cause erosion and possibly flooding.

In addition, powerboat use not only brings its own nuisances, but will also ruin long-held plans for a Grand River water trail and for parks. It is also likely that it would mean more time spent with the drawbridge in the up position, and other inconveniences for drivers and boaters, including added costs for law enforcement policing speedboat traffic. For those reasons, opponents contend the project would likely cause loss of revenue rather than the economic boost developers claim for it.

Those are just a few of the reasons that people packed the April 23 Ottawa County Commission meeting and asked the commissioners to pass a resolution opposing the plan.

Township supervisors – Leon Stille of Crockery Creek (a former state representative) and John Nash from Spring Lake ­– also noted that once an area is dredged, it has to be maintained, with the probable source for such maintenance being the adjacent municipalities, which would have extreme difficulty coming up with the funds.

Arlan Meekhof, the former state representative who presided over the house side of the lame duck session and was ultimately responsible for the millions of dollars in appropriations, was the only one at the Ottawa County Commission meeting who spoke in favor. Ultimately, the
commissioners passed the resolution with only one no vote (and even that commissioner was only proposing a wait-and-see
attitude).

But, as Jefferson Seaver, a founding member of the Friends of the Lower Grand River, notes, “The Ottawa resolution is symbolic and has no legal teeth. Ultimately for the project to be ended it will take action within State government, a legal challenge from property owners, or other mechanisms.”

Seaver spoke the evening after the commission vote at a community meeting on the subject held at Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake.

Another full house heard panelists Rachel Hood, a freshman state representative who was formerly the Executive Director of West Michigan Environmental Action Council, and Al Steinman, a researcher with and director of Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute, discuss the problems with the Grand River Waterway project.

Rep. Hood had sent a letter to Gov. Whitmer and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger opposing the project, and adding another reason to the list: there is the potential to disrupt some of the many Native American and other cultural historically significant sites along the river. Rep. Dave LaGrand and Sen. Winnie Brinks also signed the letter.

Activist Shannon Donley of the Lakeshore Water Protectors, who has since been featured in many news articles on the project, brought Hood’s letter with her when addressing the Ottawa County meeting.

“It’s a very short-sighted project,” she comments. “Our waterways in this area have been through enough trauma; right now we need to heal and repair what we’ve done to them.”

Attendees at the Seven Steps Up meeting, many of whom had not attended the commission meeting, also gathered to oppose the project. Others have expressed a desire to see Kent County pass a similar resolution to Ottawa’s. To find out what is happening, visit https://friendsofthelowergrandriver.org or follow Lakeshore Water Protectors on Facebook.