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Two Cuyahoga River dams slated for demolition

1/24/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

Shown above is the LeFever Dam, which is just upriver from the Sheraton Dam.
Photo: Scott Horstman
CUYAHOGA FALLS — Two long-standing dams on the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Falls will be torn down this summer.

Pictured above is the Sheraton Dam, which is located behind the Sheraton Suites Akron/Cuyahoga Falls, shown at left.
The dams to be removed include the Sheraton or Mill Dam (located behind the Sheraton Suites Akron/Cuyahoga Falls), and the LeFever or Powerhouse Dam (located behind the former Samira restaurant), according to city officials.

The project was the topic of the first of two public information sessions held Jan. 16 at Cuyahoga Falls Library. The second meeting, which will follow the same format, is scheduled for Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Lion’s Lodge, 641 Silver Lake Ave.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December issued a nationwide permit that will allow for the removal of the two low-head dams, according to city officials.

The anticipated schedule, depending on weather conditions and water levels, is for the Sheraton Dam to begin coming done June 17. The LeFever Dam demolition is tentatively scheduled to follow, starting around July 1.

Once the project is complete, the Cuyahoga River will be much healthier, according to Mayor Don Robart. “We’ll see fish we’ve probably never seen before,” he said.

Water quality will improve once the dams are down, since the structures cause impairment of fish and bug communities, noted Bill Zawiski, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) biologist.

Zawiski advised skeptics that upstream projects completed during the past decade to remove part of the Kent Dam and the complete Munroe Falls Dam have already resulted in water-quality improvements.

Another reason to remove the dams is safety, according to Zawiski.

Low-head dams are considered “drowning machines” by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, due to the undertow, he said.

Historically, the dams were needed for water power, but that is no longer the case, he added.

Though removal of the Gorge Dam is not part of this project, that structure may come down in the future, too, noted Robart.

State Sen. Frank LaRose (R-District 27) is championing that cause, according to the mayor, and making it a priority for the state. Hopefully, the state will contribute to the estimated $15 million it will cost to bring down the Gorge Dam, he said.

When the EPA approached city officials almost five years ago, they were somewhat skeptical about removing the Sheraton and LeFever dams, and the city was specifically not interested in putting any money into the project, said Robart.

Since the EPA committed funds last year, the city won’t be shouldering any of the bills to remove the dams, however, he added.

The project was awarded $1 million through the Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program (WRRSP) using funds from the Ohio Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF), according to Zawiski.

Now, the mayor is excited for the possibilities involving white-water rafting and kayaking and the economic development and opportunities that may present themselves, he said.

“The growth of Cuyahoga Falls has always been linked to the river,” he said.

RiverWorks is the design-build contractor chosen for the project, made up of three Summit County-based firms that specialize in engineering, biological and natural design construction, according to Joel Bingham, a restoration biologist with the team.

Besides removing the nearly 100-year-old dams, RiverWorks will be responsible for stabilization of adjacent buildings and powerhouse structures and restoration of critical areas after the dams are removed, said Bingham.

The powerhouses will remain for their historical value, according to Cuyahoga Falls Service Director Valerie Wax Carr.

The Sheraton Dam, located just downstream from the Broad Boulevard bridge and immediately upstream from the Sheraton Suites Akron/Cuyahoga Falls, will be removed while water is flowing over it using a modular spud-barge with a mini trackhoe and hammer attachment, according to Bingham.

The broken concrete will be transported upstream, to be deposited behind a deflector wall RiverWorks is planning to build, he said. The removal of concrete will look as natural as possible, added Bingham.

Upstream from the Sheraton Dam, near the Portage Trail bridge, the LeFever Dam will be brought down with a trackhoe, he explained. The approach to the LeFever Dam will be from downstream, where the leftover material will be deposited, he said.

Carr added she will work on getting some renderings to help people visualize what they can expect.

Changes to the river will be apparent once the dams are down, resulting in some small waterfalls and pools, added Bingham. Sediment will naturally wash down the river and be trapped behind the Gorge Dam, he said.

Post-construction, the river will have faster and fluctuating flows, and the river will be open from Kent all the way to the Gorge Dam, he said.

Several residents expressed concerns the river’s new look will not be pleasant.

The river “will absolutely look different,” following the removal of the dams, said Zawiski, who added it will be narrower, and people can expect some exposed silt and mud.

“Give it some time, and the real river will reveal itself to you,” he said. “We are fixing something that we harmed.”

“The river has to go through a healing process. It will take some time,” added Carr.

The appearance of the river following the removal of the Kent and Munroe Falls dams has improved in that area, according to the mayor.

“It’s kind of like getting a haircut you don’t like,” he said. “I think you will like the look of it eventually.”

Carr said the city plans to show live video of the dam removal project on the city’s website, www.cityofcf.com. The city also will post educational signs around the project area as part of its public outreach, she said.

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