Organizers of a plan to restore areas of The Grand River in Grand Rapids are waiting to learn more about the future prospects of procuring federal funding to help pay for the project.
Grand Rapids Whitewater is the non-profit group leading the projected $35 million project to remove old dams and restore The Grand River’s natural rapids. Once completed, the group says a restored river could generate between 15.9 and 19.1 million dollars a year through expanded recreational use of the river.
To complete the project, Grand Rapids Whitewater is hoping to use a mix of local, state and federal funding.
“With some of the proposed changes in Washington, we don’t know exactly what’s going on,” project coordinator Matt Chapman said. “But we continue to look at every opportunity.”
Chapman says Grand Rapids Whitewater has raised roughly six million dollars from local private-sector donations and commitments.
The project got its first dose of federal dollars – about four million – from the USDA earlier this year.
In 2013 The Grand River was designated as an Urban Waters Federal Partnership location, something Chapman says has helped create partnerships with government agencies that he hopes could lead to funding opportunities in the future.
Ultimately, the amount of funding available depends on the size and shape of the federal budget.
Chapman says his group has recently applied for grants funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which President Trump has proposed deeply cutting in his budget plan.
“We’re optimistic, but of course we recognize there’s a lot of change coming,” Chapman said. “We kind of determined roughly 10 to 14 million [dollars] might come from federal [funding] ... we’ll have to see.”
However, Chapman says it’s “encouraging” that bipartisan members of Congress representing Great Lakes States have opposed the cuts.
The ultimate goal of restoring The Grand River is still a ways off. According to Chapman, Grand Rapids Whitewater hopes to have all of its necessary permits submitted within the next year.
“We’re really hopeful that by 2018, 2019, we could start with some of the earlier phases of construction,” Chapman said.
Construction could last three to four years.