City and State agree on path forward for Grand River Revitalization

Published on March 10, 2023

The Grand River in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The City of Grand Rapids announced today agreement with the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) on a framework to address remaining permit issues on the initial phase of the Grand River Revitalization project.

Under the framework, the City will withdraw the current permit application. The withdrawal of the application allows the City, EGLE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Grand Rapids Whitewater to develop another design alternative, without standing wave features and less fill, that may have less impact on regulated resources.

The framework also establishes a timetable for expedited development and review of a resubmitted permit application, targeting construction starting in Summer 2024.

“This is a significant step forward in making the revitalization of our namesake a reality and transforming our river corridor,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “We have worked with federal, state, local and private partners to develop a comprehensive vision to revitalize the lower and upper reach of the Grand River and this EGLE permit is the final approval needed to begin work on the first phase.”

EGLE Acting Director Dan Eichinger said, “EGLE has been an important partner throughout the process of developing and planning a shared vision for revitalizing the Grand River in the heart of the City that also protects and enhances the river ecosystem. We are committed to continuing that partnership with a shared goal of restoring natural river features that will enhance river access and recreational opportunities for the citizens of Grand Rapids.”

The State of Michigan has committed $12 million for improvements to the Grand River. EGLE is required by federal law to coordinate with the EPA, which will participate in implementing the new framework and timetable.

The framework developed with the State recognizes key objectives for the project’s initial phase, including:

  • Removing four low-head dams and the associated public safety hazards
  • Developing a stream restoration design that meets fish passage and aquatic habitat enhancement targets
  • Protecting the integrity of the bridges and floodwalls
  • Diversifying and recreational opportunities
  • Providing river access consistent with identified objectives and compatible with projects adjacent to the river

“We continue to believe the revitalization of the Grand River and removal of dangerous dams will be a significant benefit for our region,” said Steve Heacock, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Whitewater – the key private partner in this effort. “Over the last 14 years, we have worked countless hours with multiple agencies to carefully create a design that maintains grade control, minimizes barriers to fish passage, creates new opportunities for aquatic habitat and provides enhanced whitewater recreational opportunities. While we still believe in that vision, removing dangerous dams and making the river more accessible to everyone still aligns with the spirit of our original vision to bring the rapids back to the Grand River and we are committed to working alongside the City of Grand Rapids on this transformational project.”

City and Grand Rapids Whitewater staff have already begun working with the various project partners through the process agreed with the regulatory agencies. Following completion of the process outlined with the State, the City of Grand Rapids will work closely with Grand Rapids Whitewater and the technical project team to conduct the required analysis of the new design alternative and submit a complete application for permitting.


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