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GR Waterways Dredging News Release

Grand Rapids, Michigan – May 10, 2019


The West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) released a sign-on letter today featuring 18 organizations declaring opposition to the proposed “Grand River Waterway” project, a plan to dredge 22.5 miles of the Grand River from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven. Citing numerous environmental and other concerns, WMEAC called on the State of Michigan to cease all planning and implementation related to the dredging project.

In a public letter to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Dept. of Environmental Quality Director Liesl Clark and Dept. of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger, WMEAC and other concerned civic and environmental organizations are asking the Michigan State officials to “stand with us and the many others who oppose this (Grand River Waterway) project, and prevent any further actions related to dredging from occurring before real and long-lasting damage is done.”

The proposal has been driven by Grand River Waterway, an organization led by Grand Rapids-area developer Dan Hibma, husband of former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. An economic assessment commissioned by Grand River Waterway concluded that the dredging would cost $2.1 million initially and $165,000 in annual maintenance and upkeep, and produce $5.7 million annually in economic impact. To date, the state-funded initiative has received $3.15 million in appropriations from the Michigan Legislature, including $2 million received during the Legislature’s 2018 lame duck session.

The text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Governor Whitmer, Director Clark and Director Eichinger:

The Grand River is one of West Michigan’s most important natural and cultural features. It is Michigan’s longest river at 252 miles, and the center of a watershed that supports vibrant aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, the economies of many communities, and a variety of existing recreational activities for people in the region. For these reasons, we the undersigned organizations formally oppose the Grand River Waterway dredging project, and request all State funds be redirected toward enhancing the water quality, ecosystem services, and existing compatible uses of the Lower Grand River.

The 23-mile stretch of Grand River from Fulton Street bridge in Grand Rapids to the Bass River Recreation Area in Ottawa county has been proposed for dredging multiple times since the late 1800’s. Each time it has been halted or outright denied. The current project proposed by the Grand River Waterway group would accommodate yachts and powerboat traffic at the expense of recreational opportunities for canoes, kayaks, and fishing boats currently utilizing the area. The dredging itself involves removing over 100,000 cubic yards of material including soil and gravel, submerged trees and other structures from previous failed attempts. In addition to the damage dredging entails, the impacts from channelizing river systems such as the Grand River for navigation purposes are well documented and present an unacceptably high risk to water quality, ecosystems, and regional culture.

Researchers at Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension have studied the issue, reviewed cases from across the country including previous efforts in the Grand River, and compiled tangible evidence indicating the proposed dredging is unlikely to provide the benefits claimed by Grand River Waterway but is likely to cause long-term harm. The report highlights several concerns, including releasing contaminated sediment accumulated for decades from various sites along the river; damaging the river’s riparian zones crucial for nutrient cycling, flood mitigation and wildlife; disturbing benthic habitats supporting the base of the food chain in and around the river; removing spawning areas for many species of fish; and ultimately impairing the stretch for people that already use it.

This would undo the investments many communities, organizations, and individuals have made in recent years to improve the Grand River’s water quality and use after decades of abuse and neglect. For example, the City of Grand Rapids has invested $400 million to separate the city’s sanitary sewers from its stormwater sewers to eliminate untreated sewage from spilling into the river and flowing downstream. Ottawa County has spent over $20 million to establish a “Greenway’ corridor and the Grand River Heritage Trail which has 18 access points, three of which include universally accessible launches, and highlights 60 cultural and historical features along the 44 miles to Lake Michigan where it links to the broader West Michigan Water Trail.

Accordingly, West Michigan Environmental Action Council, on behalf of the undersigned organizations ask you to stand with us and the people of West Michigan to oppose this project and prevent any further actions related to dredging from occurring before real and long lasting damage is done to this resource that already means so much to so many living things.


Friends of the Lower Grand River

Crockery Township

Grand River Watershed Arts and Music Council

GR Paddling, LLC

Grand Lady Riverboat / Steamboat Park Campground

Owashtanong Islands Audubon Society

Grand Haven Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Grand Rapids Audubon Club

Michigan Environmental Council

Michigan Clean Water Action

Michigan United Conservation Clubs

Izaak Walton League of America – Dwight Lydell Chapter

Grand Rapids Steelheaders

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Quiet Water Society

Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

Progressive Women’s Alliance of West Michigan PAC


Please call WMEAC at 616-451-3051,or contact Elaine Isely ( or Aaron Ferguson ( for further comment


(Founded in 1968 by a diverse group of concerned citizens and organizational stakeholders, WMEAC is a 501C3 non-profit organization uniquely positioned to respond to emerging issues and new threats to West Michigan’s natural and human ecologies, focused on building sustainable communities and protecting water resources.)