On Nov. 8, Grand Valley State University officials will face a big decision: to either support or oppose the Grand River Waterway Project.
The project was proposed by West Michigan developer Dan Hibma nearly a decade ago. The project entails dredging a 22.5-mile long channel of the lower Grand River from Grand Haven to Grand Rapids. Since it was proposed, many counties and even GVSU’s Student Senate has spoken out against it. However, GVSU has not yet taken an official position on the proposal.
“In 2018, during a lame duck session, the Michigan Legislature appropriated $3.15 million for this project,” said Student Senate President Eric-John Szczepaniak. “This funding was tentative, based on the results of the still unreleased environmental impact report to be done by the State. However, as many communities have stated before us, the question will not be whether this is good or bad for the environment. It will be a question of just how bad for the environment.”
GVSU Rowing Coach Dan Martin has mixed thoughts on the proposal. He says there are many different aspects to consider with such a big project.
“The project on its face sounds like a decent idea: let’s dredge out a channel so we can actually have some boat traffic, especially with larger boats,” Martin said. “On the other hand, that would disrupt our practice space. We could still practice there but things would be more difficult for us with so much more boat traffic.”
Martin said the logistics of the project are a big hurdle in the course for him.
“There’s no lodging facilities, there’s no marinas, there are no places to actually put those larger boats,” Martin said. “That’s not even taking into account the environmental factors of the project.”
In a letter sent to the Lanthorn, GVSU biology professor Eric Snyder voiced many concerns about the feasibility and impact of the project.
“Rivers are dynamic, disturbance-driven ecosystems that routinely flood, shift course and patently don’t stay where we would like them to stay,” Snyder wrote. “This disturbance process is not only natural, but maintains biological diversity and ecosystem services. Any attempt to dredge a channel in the river system becomes an epic, Sisyphean attempt that never ends.”
Snyder also cited a few more concerns about the project, including the impact on the wildlife that already lives in the river.
“As a scientist trained in stream and river ecology, I can unequivocally state that dredging such a large portion of a river is going to have significant negative impacts on fish and wildlife, and the ecosystem services that intact, healthy rivers provide,” Snyder said.
Dan Hibma has been listening to concerns about the project for many years but maintains his position on it.
“I’m only interested in doing what’s good for the region,” said Hibma to reporter Jim Malewitz from Bridge, a website that did a story on the Grand River Waterway Project.
Hibma said that he and his colleague, former Rep. of West Olive, Arlan Meekhof are “still in the fact-finding stage” to see if it will negatively impact the environment before they move forward.
“On Nov. 8 the Executive Committee of the Senate (faculty governance) will consider supporting our resolution which encourages GVSU to take a formal position against the Grand River Waterway Proposal,” Szczepaniak said.
Szczepaniak said Student Senate sent their resolution to several different local governments to encourage them to take a position on the project as well.
“Allendale Charter Township Supervisor Adam Elenbaas informed me that their board will be hearing about this proposal on Nov. 25 from differing perspectives and may take a position at a future meeting,” Szczepaniak said.
As Student Senate moves forward with the process, they will look for some help to achieve their goal.
“Our next steps will be to discuss this with the Executive Committee of the Senate (ECS) and the University Academic Senate (ACS),” Szczepaniak said. “We hope that they will join us and delegate some of their members to work with Student Senate and the Provost to develop a recommendation to make this an official position of Grand Valley State University.”
Although the Grand River Waterway Project has been in the works for many years, the next few weeks and how GVSU sides could affect the Grand River for many years to come.