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Grand River Waterway study reveals cost associated with restoring Grand River for recreational use

Grand River Waterway Project logo
Grand River Waterway

Currently, the 17 mile stretch of the Grand River from Grand Haven to the Bass River inlet is navigable to motorboat traffic. What would it take to extend it to Grand Rapids? A feasibility study reveals the 40 mile stretch from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven could be restored to a navigable waterway and at a reasonable cost.

Back in 1978 the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study. It wanted to know what it would take to make the Grand River functionally navigable from the Bass River inlet to downtown Grand Rapids. Back then, dredging that 23 mile stretch would cost $18 million dollars. Today, after the state conducted its most recent survey, discovered dredging a 50-foot wide, 7-foot deep waterway could be done at a fraction of the cost.

“Now we have the technology to give us a complete picture of what the river bottom looks like…We have a tool with this report that we’ve never had before and certainly didn’t have it in 1978 but it’s a full, topographical survey of what the bottom of the river looks like.” Shana Shroll is Grand River Waterway’s executive director.

“So we can really just kind of hit the tops of the river bottom and make sure that we’ve got a safe path. So that amount of material is now estimated to be closer to 97,000 cubic yards. So, just a quarter of what they were originally guessing in 1978.”

What is the estimated cost to dredge and clear a channel for recreational boating use in 2017? 

"So the cost that’s estimated in this report, which is considered a baseline, is $2.1 million so that’s not nearly as much the $18 million that was originally estimated back in 1978. And again, that’s because we have this very specific map of what the river looks like. In addition, we can follow the natural trench of the river. It doesn’t go right down the middle of the river, it kind of follows its own path and so it’s just a much smaller cost than what was originally anticipated. But that $2.1 million includes about $1.5 million for the actual excavation, another $300,000 or so for the engineering costs and then another $200,000 and change for the buoys. And that’s another important point as well. This would be a 50-foot path following the natural course of the river, but you would want that marked off using buoys that would make it safe for the boaters and anyone else who’s enjoying the river. So it would be very clearly marked. So there would be a cost to that. And then there would also be an additional annual cost estimated at $165,000 a year and that would be for putting the buoys in, bringing them out, storing them. You would also want to do a survey occasionally and make sure that the dredging that’s done is effective, that it doesn’t fill back in with different sediment, and then to do an actual maintenance dredge whenever needed. That’s still an estimate but that’s pretty much what the cost looks like today.”

Shroll explains the upfront cost would be a “regional effort.”

Patrick Center, WGVU News.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.