WEST OLIVE, Mich. — "I don't see any problem with the river – I think the river is being utilized very well," said Commissioner Matthew Fenske, before announcing his opposition to a plan that would create a channel in the body of water that runs through much of West Michigan.
Fenske was joined by eight other Ottawa County Commissioners Tuesday in approving a resolution to oppose the dredging of 22.5 miles of the Grand River between Grand Rapids and the Bass River Inlet near Eastmanville.
The project, known as the Grand River Waterway, was introduced by developer Dan Hibma. He hopes to carve a 50-foot-wide, 7-foot-deep channel through parts of the river to make room for recreational powerboats to travel from Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan.
The opposing resolution cannot stop the project, which has already received state funding in the 2019 budget. The commissioners passed it 9-1 as a symbolic gesture.
Several commissioners, local officials and residents expressed concerns that the proposed dredging could unearth contaminants from the river bed, harm local wildlife and lead to extra costs to the county for law enforcement and maintenance.
"I have not heard any comment to the fact that this would be a good thing for Ottawa County or for the Grand River," said Vice Chairperson Roger Bergman.
The project is supported by former State Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-Grand Haven. Meekhof led the lame-duck legislature that secured the dredging funds.
The politician-turned-consultant cited a recent poll of 400 registered Ottawa County voters that found 67 percent favored the project.
"In my line of work, this amount of support is unheralded," Meekhof said to the board.
The city of Grand Haven and Crockery Township have already adopted resolutions opposing the dredging. Spring Lake Township is considering the same action, said Supervisor John Nash.
"I have not had one resident from Spring Lake Township come to me in support of this resolution in favor of dredging," Nash said.
The Grand River Waterway has not acquired a dredging permit. Meekhof said they're waiting for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to test the soil borings in the proposed dredging area to look for pollutants.
"All of those things will be taken into account by the DNR [and] DEQ to make sure it can be done without harming any fish or any flowers at that point," he said. "So I'm looking forward to the results."
The cost is concerning in the long run, said Crockery Township Supervisor Leon Stille.
"We do not need the burden of funding, continued maintenance of the Grand River and the dredging," Stille said. "To my knowledge, it benefits primarily one individual and one set of industry. A lot of other people will have to pay for it."
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