River project inches toward goal


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Grand Rapids Whitewater has made financial headway for its river restoration project but still is working toward its cost of roughly $40 million, with construction estimated to start in 2019.

The nonprofit’s CEO, Richard Bishop, updated the Kent County Board of Commissioners about the project during its Sept. 28 meeting.

Bishop estimates the total cost of the project — restoring the rapids in the Grand River — will be close to $40 million, including construction and development costs. They have raised about $16 million for the project so far, including federal, state and local funding and $5.7 million in private funding.

“We feel pretty confident that we can get there,” Bishop said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow recently secured $8.1 million from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program: $4.8 million of that is slated for river restoration, while the rest is dedicated to water quality research.

Bishop said Sen. Gary Peters is working to secure potential funding of around $1.8 million from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission budget, which would help fund construction.

Steve Heacock, Whitewater board member and senior vice president of public affairs at Spectrum Health, followed Bishop’s update with comments of support and a request for the board.

“I’m here … to ask you to be those transformative leaders, to contribute to this effort, to help lead this effort and, specifically, to allocate $2 million of the 2018 budget for this project,” Heacock said.

Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission, also voiced his support.

“As a sports commission, we see opportunities of transforming one of our greatest natural resources,” he said.

Bishop described progress and plans and said there would be significant milestones scheduled in the next year, leading to his estimation of a 2019 construction start. From there, it could take approximately four years to complete construction, which includes securing the habitat for the endangered snuffbox mussel and installing an adjustable hydraulic structure to act as a barrier for the invasive sea lamprey, among other tasks.

He said the group is about 60 percent finished with the design and should be totally finished in 2018. They plan to submit the Habitat Conservation Plan in November. They will submit the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality permit in mid-2018.

“We’re continuing to work with all these different agencies that are so involved in making this project what it needs to be,” Bishop said.

He said the length of time it takes to complete a project like this is normal, but he came into the project encouraged by the work that already was done and knows it will all be worthwhile.

In 2014, an economic impact study was released, suggesting the restored river could bring $16 million to $19 million per year to Grand Rapids.

“This project is a game-changer for this community, and I know all of you know that,” Bishop said. “But from someone who’s done a project similar to this in Columbus, Georgia, it will do that.”

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