Construction to improve Grand River flood protection starting this summer

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The iconic views along the Grand River downtown will remain unchanged, despite flood wall improvement construction beginning this summer.

The improvements are outlined in FEMA's 2016 report, partnering with the city of Grand Rapids as part of the Levee Analysis and Mapping Procedure (LAMP) improvements project.  It updated Kent County's flood insurance maps and showed the possible flood water levels in the event of a one-percent-chance 100-year flood.

On Thursday, Grand Rapids City Engineer Mark DeClercq walked FOX 17 through some of the construction and improvements to expect likely starting this August, which he said will wrap up by next spring.

First he said these plans take into consideration GR Forward's plan and do not disrupt the walking paths along the river.  Also he said trees will "surgically" be removed if they pose a possible threat to dislodging and damaging bridges in the event of a flood.

"We have about six inches to about two to two-and-a-half-feet that actually raising, whether it’s a combination of adding soil on top of existing embankments, or if we need to add concrete to the existing concrete flood walls that you see," said DeClercq.

In the city there is about 85,000 feet of river bank, about 44,000 of which is part of the "flood protection system," according to DeClercq. Of that flood protection system, between 20 to 25 percent will receive improvements.

Recalling the historic river levels and flooding back in spring 2013, it was the highest crest in the community's history at 21.85-feet and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to public and private property. The flooding, considered to be a 25-year flood event, DeClercq said was a testament to the design of the city's flood walls working well.

However, according to he and FEMA, these improvements are necessary.

“They’re very necessary, very necessary because the recalculation from FEMA for the 100 year base-flood elevation we do need to raise our walls and our embankments like I said about 6 to 30 inches in certain locations," he said.

By August 2017 the improvements must be certified by FEMA. DeClercq said the entire project is anticipated to cost between $4 and $5 million. The project is funded by bonds included from 2008, 2014, and 2016, including part of the Chapter 20 Drain Bond that is affiliated with the Kent County Drain Commissioner's Office and the Drain Commission.

In regards to the restoration of the Grand River's rapids, DeClercq called Grand Rapids Whitewater's proposal "exciting."

“It’s really exciting plan, it’s mainly from the 6th street area down to Fulton Street with a series of features that are designed in the river to create waves and other types of rapids for those that just want to float and some more higher class rapids for people that want the challenge for whitewater when it comes to canoeing and kayaking," he said.

"It does not really impact our flood capacity and our flood protection system, so that’s a good thing.”

The river's revitalization work is in its permit stage and will not affect any of the flood protection plan improvements.


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