Cuyahoga Falls Library site of first meeting on dam removals

by STeve wiandt | REPORTER Published:

Cuyahoga Falls -- When will the city's two dams be demolished? How will their removal affect the Cuyahoga River? What will be done with the demolition debris?

These and other questions (including what historic artifact lies deep below the river's surface) were answered at the city's first of two public informational meetings on the dam removal and restoration project Jan. 16.

With permission granted in December by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city is going to tear down two low head dams in the city, one behind Samira's restaurant (formerly LeFever's) and the other behind the Sheraton Suites hotel.

Mayor Don L. Robart said when the dams are removed, "you are going to see the original falls the city was named after … [and] fish we never saw before."

The river will be "healthier and more vibrant," he said.

The Cuyahoga will be rapid enough to support white water rafting and kayaking, Robart said, giving the city's economic development a shot in the arm.

Crews will mobilize from June 10-14, said Joel Bingham, a restoration biologist with EnviroScience and the RiverWorks team. Work will be done on the Sheraton dam June 17-30 and then on the LeFever dam July 1-19.

Progress will be influenced by weather and flow influence, Bingham said.

"We are very excited to get started," he commented. "We are ready and geared up."

Robart cautioned visible improvements will not be instantaneous. When the Munroe Falls Dam was removed, it was two years before the river's appearance improved, he said.

"It's kind of like getting a haircut you don't like at first," he said.

Robart said the EPA approached the city five years ago with a proposal to remove the dams.

Built during the country's industrial age a century ago, dams today are no more than "impairments" and "drowning machines," said Bill Zawiski, a biologist for the Ohio EPA. "Healthy streams are free-flowing, not impaired," Zawiski said. "Dams impair streams."

Zawiski said he is federally mandated by the Clean Water Act to improve water quality.

The mayor said he wasn't sure at first how the Sheraton and LeFever's, as well as residents, would view it.

"I did not oppose EPA, but asked how it would be funded," Robart said. "I told them the city was not interested in putting any money into it."

Funding for the project, which will cost just under $1 million, according to the city service director, Valerie Wax Carr, will come from a state grant.

Bingham said work will be done while water is running over the dams. Crews will float a modular spud barge with a mini track hoe and hammer attachment along each dam, hammering away at the concrete, one foot in depth at a time.

The concrete pieces will be used to build retaining walls near the dam sites to deflect flooding.

The river will drop 8 to 9 feet when the project is completed, Bingham noted, and the river will have faster and fluctuating flows.

"The river is going to be narrower," said Zawiski. "Give it some time and the real river will reveal itself."

Disapproval was voiced by several residents among the crowd of some 80 people in the Sutliff Room of the Cuyahoga Falls Library.

One resident said he expects his yard to fill with mud. Another resident said he believes the project will leave his boat ramp high and dry.

Bingham said he can't predict where the river's edge will be when the project is completed.

Someone asked if the project will affect flooding to Water Works Park. Wax Carr said the park "will be fine."

Denny Taylor, a Cuyahoga Falls native and professor at Hiram College, commended the city and EPA.

"We are winning by removing the dams," Taylor said.

Wax Carr noted that an archeologist will be on hand to evaluate anything crews find while working. She noted that the Falls Fire Department has already used sonar to map the river and found a fully intact water wheel.

The city will have live camera feeds of the dams on its website, Wax Carr said. One was installed by The Office Bistro that can be viewed inside the Front Street establishment.

The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at Lions Lodge, 641 Silver Lake Ave. This evening session will mirror the afternoon event at the library, and will not be a continuation, Wax Carr said.

Email: swiandt@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9420

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