To Dredge or Not to Dredge: What’s Best for the River?

Joe Writes . . . 

diogenesDiogenes, 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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Thank you for visiting our site. If you enjoyed our blog, please share it with a friend or on social media. Links to this blog are always posted at Length of the Grand on Facebook; please follow us there as well. You may leave comments here or contact us as follows: (Joe Neely); and/or, (Tom Neely). We look forward to resuming our paddling – likely in June, Joe and his wife are moving in May – and finishing our quest to paddle the entire length of the Grand by mid-summer.






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2 Responses to To Dredge or Not to Dredge: What’s Best for the River?

  1. Well written Joe! One of the things developers never do (at least in my experience) is to consider how upsetting development is to the environment. They will show these large plans at public meetings, designs of beautiful future landscapes and yet during the entire process there is damage. Plus, in your areas plan to dredge for increased power boat traffic is not sustainable for future generations. I side with you and your river. Tourists will come if a plan to sell the natural current qualities of the river.

  2. Peter Carlberg says:

    I have four times driven my fishing boat with a 40 horse motor all the way down the Grand from Johnson Park to the currently dredged channel near Grand Haven. Except for a short stretch under the M-45 bridge near Allendale, where it’s only a foot deep for about a hundred yards or so, my depth finder hasn’t found any other stretches of river that don’t already have clear channels with plenty of depth for normal size powerboats. Except for that one small spot, I don’t see where any other dredging is actually needed. The only real hazards I have encountered are the hidden snags just below the surface that aren’t marked. Is there another alternative to make it safer for powerboats without extensive dredging? How much channel depth do they think they need?

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