WhiteWater group meeting stiff opposition | News
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - The group trying to turn the Grand River into a hot spot for recreational sports is meeting stiff opposition from a newly formed team of fishermen.
Grand River Future Vision says parts of Grand Rapids WhiteWater's plan to tear down or modify five dams could hurt the fish habitat.
Grand Rapids WhiteWater recently received $100,000 from the DDA to move forth with their $27million project.
The co-founders hired a fishing expert who says opening the Sixth Street Dam up would provide twice the space for waders to fish.
The new opposition group says that may be the case, but they're worried about what fish habitat may be destroyed, and say there's been no communication with the fishing community.
The fishing boat is Steven Heintzelman and Herb Theodore's gateway to their getaway, the Grand River. But the white water they speed through in search of salmon and steelhead, Grand Rapids WhiteWater wants for its massive recreation project.
"They're only pushing their point and not listening to what the fishermen want," said Heintzelman, president of Michigan Steelheaders, Grand Rapids Chapter.
Grand Rapids WhiteWater says tearing down five dams will restore the rapids, but Heintzelman says removing the 6th Street Damn will destroy certain fish habitats. To back their point up, Grand Rapids WhiteWater sought the expertise of a former state environmental toxicolgist and DNR member, avid fisherman, and contributing author to Outdoor Life, Salmon Trout Steelheader, and Fly Fishing & Tying Journal, Jim Bedford.
"I think one misconception that's commonly concurred is they think the fish will just rush through Grand Rapids if they don't have a dam and a current fish ladder," said Bedford. "But fish slow down once they hit the faster water."
"And once they get to the dam, they just want to get the rest of the way upstream, so they essentially fall out of the fishery anyway once they hit the dam. This way, once they open the river up, we'll have another mile of river to fish, and more places to catch them as they slow down."
But Bedford, DNR Southern Lake Michigan Unit Manager Jay Wesley, and Grand Rapids Future Vision all say the fish habitat will be in trouble if the lampreys get through. Right now, an inflatable dam has been proposed, which they're all skeptical of.
Bedord says it would only need to work for about a month-and-a-half out of the year, but he hasn't seen any proof that one works.
"If you have a giant tree floating down in high water situation, when there's mass amounts of spawning lampry, and it breaks loose and lets them all up the river, then you're in trouble," said Theodore.
As for removing the remaining cofferdams, Theodore says it may negatively affect flood control, but he says a benefit is that the flow of water could be spread out. The coffer next to the Sixth Street Dam has been referred to as a drowning machine.
Theodore says the theory behind restoring the rapids is sound, but his main concerns go back to the fishermen.
"Their plan is to have a white water chute so to speak along this east wall, which would put into conflict people that are kayaking and fishing. You're going to have fishermen throwing their lines into this, and you're going to have kayakers working their way down at the same time, and that's only going to lead to trouble.
But Theodore says he hopes the white water can be restored into common ground for both.
"I do believe we can come up with a solution that will make everybody happy," he said.
Wesley says his other big concern are the snuffbox in the river, which are on the federal endangered species list.
He says while the DNR is in favor of restoring the rapids, they won't back the idea until they see a concrete plan that doesn't harm the habitat.
The plan is not expected to be released until sometime next year.