By Hannah Watts
Grand Ledge Gazette staff writer
GRAND LEDGE — Green infrastructure is increasingly relevant to Michigan, the region and the country. With five Great Lakes and two peninsulas, Michigan represents connectivity.
“Many people think green infrastructure has to do with just energy, but really green infrastructure is any infrastructure that is sensitive to the environment,” said Jon Bayless, Grand Ledge city administrator.
With green infrastructure improvements well underway in Grand Ledge, such as possible dam deconstruction, recreational trail extensions and rain gardens, community support is essential.
“The community has been very supportive of locally-initiated and state-mandated efforts to build and maintain a green infrastructure,” said Kalmin Smith, mayor of Grand Ledge. “The primary green interest of Grand Ledgers is to protect and improve the quality of water in the Grand River which flows through the city.”
Dave Drullinger, water quality specialist at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality explained that green infrastructure’s relevance to water is based on the need to restore natural hydrology interrupted by human activity and construction.
“We have a lot that’s necessary in Michigan to protect our water sources and right now, because of land development, there’s too much volume of water going to our streams during rain and weather events,” Drullinger said.
The dam on the Grand River that runs through Grand Ledge is an example of the impact traditional, or “grey”, infrastructure has on quality of life and the environment.
“It has been a big problem in Grand Ledge,” Bayless said. “The question was whether to repair it as it is or to take it down. Dams raise the water level, creating more erosion.”
The erosion caused by the dam compounds natural erosion, so much so that two of Grand Ledge’s seven islands have almost disappeared. One of the eroded islands used to house a hotel and a cabin, bringing commerce and attracting tourism to the city.
“This city used to be known as the city with the seven islands,” Bayless said. “The islands that we do have left are much smaller than they used to be. In 25 years I think they may all be gone.”
In hopes of slowing down and potentially halting the process of human-induced erosion, the city is making plans to deconstruct the dam and replace it with more natural, green infrastructure.
“It would be replaced with natural treatment of the river such as boulders and rain gardens,” Bayless said. “Such treatments lift oppression from wildlife, and are environmentally viable and economically feasible.
Alternatively, deconstructing the dam could have a negative impact on property values and opportunities for recreational activities to take place on the river.
“The river would turn into a creek, harboring unwanted wildlife that may be detrimental to residential properties that have the river behind them, and boating could be restricted,” Bayless explained. “The Grand Ledge Princess, our river ferry, may disappear.”
A common goal
Jason Ball, senior planner at Kuntzsch Business Services (KBS), who helped with the dam project planning, indicated that Grand Ledge community members share a similar goal in regards to the project.
“Aging dams are expensive and hard to deal with,” Ball said. “We helped Grand Ledge residents to see that they wanted to same thing, that is, people want a river that is useable and clean.”
According to the Grand Ledge Water Dialogue session report published by KBS, the city spent over $4.5 million addressing overflows and runoff into the river in 2010 alone.
Green vs. grey infrastructure
In addition to being environmentally friendly, green infrastructure is often more visually appealing and is able to replace traditional infrastructure by serving multiple purposes.
“There’s a major push for this place-making idea, Drullinger said. “Place making means not places that are all concrete steel and glass. A storm pipe, made from metal and its sole purpose is to drain storm water and runoff. A rain garden is both aesthetically more interesting and actually filters the runoff before it reaches our waterways. “
Green infrastructure projects, like the expansion of recreational trails, support quality of life, wildlife habitats, and connect communities by bringing rural amenities into urban areas.
“The new trails really connect the East and West sides of Grand Ledge and they’ve offered residents the opportunity to become more physically active,” explained Harmony Gmazel, senior planner at the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. “Any trail project that happens throughout the country plays a part in fighting chronic disease and health departments get involved because green infrastructure gets people out and about and protects out environment in the same coin.”
Gmazel said the hardest part of her job is finding the perfect balance between environmental sustainability and community sustainability, but mentioned that the environment always takes a leading role.
“Any urban planner is trained to take everything into account,” Gmazel said. “You have to balance environmental protection with economic viability and community building. To not care about the environment means leaving out a third of what successful urban planning is all about.”
Contact reporter Hannah Watts at firstname.lastname@example.org.