‘Politics at its worst’

Alexander Sinn • May 14, 2019 at 7:00 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Applause followed a 6-0 decision by the Grand Haven Township Board on Monday to oppose a controversial Grand River dredging project.

Township Trustee Ron Redick, who served as president pro-tem in the absence of Supervisor Mark Reenders, called the decision a “no-brainer.”

“It’s politics at its worst,” Redick said after the board heard numerous comments from residents opposed to the plans to dredge a 22.5-mile stretch of the river from the Bass River inlet to Grand Rapids.

The Spring Lake Township Board and Grandville City Council also voted to oppose the project Monday. The Allendale Township Board was also expected to consider the issue at its meeting Monday night.

The Grandville resolution was approved despite its mayor being a proponent of the project. Mayor Steve Maas told the Tribune last week that he doesn’t see a variety of uses of the river as incompatible.

Proponents say the dredging would open up the river to larger boat travel, boost local property values and promote development.

Several other local units of government and organizations have declared their opposition to the idea, including the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, the City of Grand Haven, Crockery Township and the local Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a nightmare none of us want to see,” Shannon Donley, a local activist with Lakeshore Water Protectors, told the Grand Haven Township Board, saying the work would threaten to reverse decades-long gains in environmental cleanup.

Mary Jane Belter, who sits on the township’s Parks & Recreation Board, said a survey sent out by the Grand River Waterway group did not ask whether residents were willing to pay for the maintenance.

“This is all going to come out of our tax dollars,” she said.

Riverfront residents shared concern that dredging would exacerbate existing issues with shoreline erosion. 

The Grand River Waterway project, headed by developer Dan Hibma and supported by former state Sen. Arlan Meekhof, received $3.2 million in state funding in 2018.

State legislators from Grand Rapids have asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to review the project. This process has stalled the project before permit applications can be submitted.

Michigan State University Extension educator Dan O’Keefe told the Tribune last week that resolutions to oppose the project could help prevent approval during state agency review processes. His research has highlighted concerns including the destruction of habitat for native and threatened species, shoreline erosion, and the release of potential industrial contaminants. Local and county officials have shared concerns the project would require costly perpetual funding for maintenance and law enforcement.

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