Gorge Dam Removal Could top $70m
Officials of the Ohio EPA were shocked by the standing room only crowd that turned out last night at the Cuyahoga Falls Natatorium. They were presenting results of a feasibility study on removing the Gorge Dam on the Cuyahoga River. Ideastream’s Mark Urycki reports that river has a pretty strong group of supporters.
Bill Zawiski told the crowd about a map in his Twinsburg office of the Ohio EPA. It’s marked with flags from around the world representing people who’ve visited.
”People come from all over the world to our office to see the Cuyahoga River because it is that important globally.
Zawinski explains that when the river caught fire 50 years it “ignited the modern environmental movement.”
Today the EPA says removing the Gorge Dam between Akron and Cuyahoga Falls will help restore water quality and wildlife to that part of the river. That happened before after they demolished dams in Kent and Munroe Falls.
But Kevin Kratt of the consultant firm Tetra Tech says it won’t be cheap
“Most feasible alternative is about $60m for sediment removal and another $12m for dam removal. Yeah, it’s a lot.”
Zawiski says that isn’t necessarily out of their price range.
“Before we started with Kent and working through this had come with this number, yeah I would have had some sticker shock.”
But the US EPA now has funding available through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Cuyahoga River qualifies. The agency also uses money from a revolving loan fund for Ohio projects.
The dam is 57 feet high and 425 feet long and about 1.5 miles downstream from downtown Cuyahoga Falls where two smaller dams were removed in 2013.
Part of the cost is tied to disposing of 830,000 cubic yards of sediment. It has some toxic elements and heavy metals like cadmium and lead but is not considered hazardous waste. Two potential sites are the now-closed Hardy Rd. Landfill and the Summit Metro Parks’ Cascade Valley South.
Kratt said it would take 90,000 truckloads.
77 year old Gary Whidden, a long time river advocate and kayaker, says restoring the falls could bring back the tourists that frequented the site before the dam was built.
”This is going to be an international attraction, it’s right in the middle of 4 million people; it is right in the middle of hotels, motels, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the railroad...”
Without the dam the original falls, for which Cuyahoga Falls is named, would be revealed. It is currently under water in the dam pool.
Also to be revealed are sharp spikes and crevice’s in the bedrock, which are expected to create wild class IV and class V rapids for kayakers.
But another long time river advocate, Elaine Marsh, of Friends of the Crooked River, says demolishing the dam is not about the kayaking.
“This is about restoring the gorge of the Cuyahoga River, it’s about unleashing the falls, the great falls of the Cuyahoga River. It’s about the spirit of the River. This was a very sacred place to the native peoples and I think it would be a very sacred place to us as well.”
The dam was once owned by Northern Ohio Power and Light, the predecessor to Ohio Edison, but Stephanie Walton of parent company FirstEnergy says they still maintain the site but they transferred the title to what is now Summit County Metro Parks in 1929.
It will take more studies and many more meetings before the jackhammers show up. Next up is a hydrological study to measure possible changes in erosion and water velocity if the dam is gone. Zawiski asked the public to stay engaged and help with the planning process for the river.
Two other dams that might be removed before the Gorge dam are the partial dam in Peninsula and the so-called Canal Diversion Dam under the Rt. 82 bridge in Brecksville inside the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Removing the Brecksville dam would allow fish to once again swim upstream from Lake Erie to spawn.