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Summit Metro Parks takes first steps in Gorge Dam removal project

Work has begun on clearing and preparing a nearby area where contaminated sediment trapped behind the dam will be pumped.

The Gorge Dam removal project began Monday with the removal of trees in a former de facto dumpsite at Cascade Valley Metro Park.

The 35-acre space in the Chuckery Area of the park will be used to hold approximately 900,000 cubic meters of contaminated sediment that rests behind the Gorge Dam in the Cuyahoga River.

It’s important that the river is free of the sediment before the dam is removed to avoid any harm to aquatic life, said Elaine Marsh, watershed specialist with Summit Metro Parks .

“It would actually destroy that aquatic life downstream if we just let that sediment go down the river,” she said. “And with that amount, it would also cause tremendous flooding issues.”

Governor Mike DeWine and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday it will provide a $25 million grant toward the removal project which would restore more than a mile of river access for community use, while also reestablishing fish and wildlife habitat along the river.

These funds, Marsh said, along with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Legacy Act will be used for the sediment removal process.

A mechanical dredge, or an excavator on the water with a clam-shell bucket, will be used to scoop the sediment from the river into a floating scow barge. Once the barge is filled, any large material will be removed from the sediment before it’s transferred to a temporary pipe system.

The pipe system will run along the High Bridge Trail to the deposit site. While being transported through the pipes, the wet sediment will mix with cement, and once deposited the mixture will be formed into a mound.

“Once the sediment is moved and stored, the contaminants in the sediment will not be bioavailable to plant life in the area,” Marsh said. “It will be completely safe for the people and wildlife and plant life in the area. It will not erode off and go into the to the river.”

The mound will be formed to look like a natural part of the park’s landscaping. Once cured, the mound will be capped with soil and planted with native species.

“It's a different concept and it is something that was chosen because it will be more effective and cost efficient in the area,” Marsh said. “The problems that could be associated with erosion will be much reduced.”

The sediment-removal process is expected to begin next year, Marsh said. After that's completed, work will commence on removing the dam which is expected to begin in 2025 and wrap up in 2026. Restoration of that area would then follow.

Once completed, Marsh said the area will have paid off the investment made by the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

“No matter how much we clean up discharges, water quality will not be met in the dam pool section without removing the dam,” she said. “So, this is a critical piece of our entire planning for restoring the Cuyahoga River.”

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.