Redesigned Grand River Floodwalls Planned for Grand Rapids, Michigan

December 24, 2014

Grand Rapids, Mich., is redesigning its flood protection system along the Grand River after years of resistance to calls by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to boost floodwalls.

The Grand Rapids Press reports the city is studying 16 sites along the river where it might build multi-purpose floodwalls that double as public access points. The plans come amid efforts to restore rapids to the Grand River and improve recreation.

The idea could replace some traditional concrete floodwalls with a stepped embankment that people could go up and down to launch a kayak or visit the river when water levels are low. When the river floods, water would rise and submerge the steps.

Jim Smalligan, a Smalligan, a Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber engineer working with Grand Rapids, calls it a “flood protection system,” not floodwalls. He says the city has “an opportunity to do it right” as it looks at what’s needed along the river.

The river came close to breaching the flood walls in April 2013. Water flowed in torrents, causing millions of dollars in damage throughout Kent County and causing flooding that forced hundreds of area residents to leave their homes for higher ground.

Since then, Grand Rapids and FEMA have come to terms on a compromise that won’t require the walls to go 3 feet above the 100-year flood level. A draft report on what exactly Grand Rapids needs to do to get its walls certified is expected to come from FEMA later this month.

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