Joe Writes . . .
Diogenes, call off your search. An honest man has been found. He’s Spring Lake Township Supervisor John Nash, who opposes a proposal to dredge a channel in the Grand River from Grand Rapids to Spring Lake because, “. . . it’s not the best thing for the river.”
The purpose of the proposed channel is to allow larger power boats to traverse the river from Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan. I wrote briefly on the proposal in October, and since that time my ambivalence has evolved into opposition. A well-written MLive story containing Mr. Nash’s quote and other information can be found here; writer Brian McVicker is to be commended for a thorough and balanced piece.
The Grand will never return to its pristine original state, but that doesn’t keep me up at night. I love watching the freighters split the piers in Grand Haven, an activity made possible only because, long ago, humans intervened and have maintained that interference for more than a century. Similarly, I don’t like dams on the Grand and am heartened by the recent trend to remove them, but I like the fact that the 6th St dam in Grand Rapids prevents lampreys from getting any further up the river. Weighing the pros and cons of human intervention in nature is not always a simple task.
Our first obligation, however, should be to do no further harm to the Grand while she slowly continues to recover from centuries of neglect and active degradation.
Local politicians and Chamber of Commerce-types often strike at the promise of economic development or increased tourism like a hungry bass hitting a Hula Popper on one of the Grand’s peaceful bayous. Before striking the lure, however, we ought to slow down and examine the costs. In the case of dredging the Grand those costs might include stirring up contaminants that have been buried for decades or destroying little-understood fish and wildlife habitats.
Proponents point to the prospect of economic development and increased tourism, dangling visions of new marinas and riverside restaurants springing up along the banks of the proposed channel. We even have the mayor of one community along the proposed channel – Steve Maas of Grandville – acting as an advisor to the developer of the project, leaving me to wonder how he can both judge the proposal on its merits and act as an advisor to the developer at the same time.
So the Spring Lake Township Supervisor is correct; the focus should be on the river. Not on what’s best for business. Not on what will create jobs or expand the local tax base. The focus should be on the river.
What’s the best way to make the Grand accessible and enjoyable to the citizens of Michigan in an environmentally-responsible, cost-efficient manner? In January I also wrote about great improvements along the Grand in the form of newly-opened Ottawa Sands County Park. Ottawa Sands allows residents to increase their enjoyment and use of the Grand River without increasing the demand on the river’s resources, a far better path forward than dredging a potentially-disastrous channel.
So I’ll sign off now the same way I often do, by urging readers to take the river’s side and keep in mind that Industry and Big Agriculture have plenty of friends in high places already.
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