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Irishtown Bend Stabilization Gets $9 Million Federal Grant

Cleveland's Irishtown Bend Stabilization and Restoration Project has been in the works for years and finally has enough funding to move forward with the first phase, partners say. [Afi Scruggs / ideastream]
Sign for the city of Cleveland's Irishtown Bend Stabilization and Restoration Project

A project to stabilize the hillside at Irishtown Bend along the Cuyahoga River will get a $9 million boost from a federal grant.

The funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation will help pay for the installation of 2,600 feet of steel bulkheads, shoring up the hillside near Columbus Road and Riverbend Street designed to prevent a potential landslide. The new grant means public and private agencies have raised a total of $25.5 million for the project, which is estimated to cost $36 million.

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) will administer the money and the bulkhead construction. Without them, the hill will collapse, with disastrous results, says NOACA executive director Grace Gallucci.

“The local economy is about $3.5 billion dollars as it related to the waterway. If [the hills] fails, that’s $3.5 billion of economic activity that gets halted. That’s jobs: jobs in manufacturing, jobs in shipping, jobs in support and administration that are all connected to that.

“This is, absolutely, the most crucial project we have in the region. It was the highest priority for NOACA to get this funded. Really, this project is critical,” she said.

In a May letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in support of the NOACA grant application, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) wrote that the area was at risk of collapse, which would block cargo shipments to and from manufacturing sites along the river.

“The stabilization project also includes restoration of the hillside above the Irishtown Bend, known as Franklin Hill, and improving road and sewer infrastructure of the area as well,” Portman wrote. “Repairing Irishtown Bend would strengthen the economic viability and safety of the area as well as secure 20,000 jobs that rely on the channel.”

For 38 years, Norm Plonski has observed Irishtown Bend from his bar, Major Hoopple’s Tavern on Columbus Road. He agrees stabilization is a necessity, but he’s skeptical that the latest efforts will produce results.

“We’ve had multiple projects proposed for Irishtown Bend and it always seems that we study, study, study until the money’s gone,” he said. “The first thing that has to be done is the stabilization of the land, and that takes a lot of people working together."

Norm Plonski is hopeful but has his doubts that the Irishtown Bend stablization and development project will move forward swiftly after hearing plans ebb and flow for years. [Afi Scruggs / ideastream]

Ohio City, Inc. is one of several agencies working on the project. Executive director Tom McNair is confident the project will finally get moving.

Containing the erosion will lead to improvements that will add Irishtown Bend to the growing network of regional trails. And once the hillside and shore are stablized, Ohio City and its partners can move forward with long-held plans for redevelopment there, including the construction of a 17-acre park.

“You look at the work that ODOT has down with the Cleveland Lakefront bikeway, the Ohio and Erie Canalway Towpath trail, the Red Line, Green Way, all of these things kind of come together at Irishtown Bend,” McNair says.

Engineering and consulting firm Michael Baker International presented plans for Irishtown Bend and the large hillside between the Cuyahoga River and West 25th Street in August 2017. [Michael Baker / CMG]

The Port of Cleveland has already hired a firm to design the bulkheads for reinforcing the hillside. That work is expected to take 18 months.

ideastream's Gayle S. Putrich contributed to this report.