Beacon Journal staff report
CUYAHOGA FALLS: The city could find new rapids in its river if it proceeds with a proposal to remove two city-owned dams in downtown.
Spurred by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency efforts to improve water quality in the entire river by removing numerous dams, the city is looking at these two additional sites:
• The Sheraton Suites Dam. It is about 50 feet wide and 9.8 feet high and is between the hotel and Broad Boulevard. It is also known as the Mill Dam.
• The LeFever or Powerhouse Dam north of Portage Trail behind the Samira restaurant, formerly LeFever's restaurant. It is about 100 feet wide and 11.1 feet high.
The Ohio EPA spearheaded the removal of a dam in Kent in 2004 and the lowering of another in Munroe Falls in 2005-06 to boost water quality.
Now under study is a dam at state Route 82 on the Summit-Cuyahoga County line. There has been preliminary talk of taking down the 68-foot-tall Ohio
Edison Co. Dam between Akron and Cuyahoga Falls in the Gorge Metro Park.
If those projects proceed, the Cuyahoga River would be free-flowing for 58 miles from Lake Erie to Lake Rockwell north of Kent in Portage County.
Cuyahoga Falls saw no downside in exploring the removal of the two dams and it's an issue that has not ignited controversy, said Cuyahoga Falls Engineer Tony V. Demasi.
If a dam is no longer needed, then ''maybe it's time to start asking if it's the right time to remove the dam and restore the river to its natural state,'' he said.
The 1.5-mile dam pool behind the LeFever Dam stretches to Water Works Park. The dissolved oxygen levels in that pool are low, creating problems for fish. There are similar problems behind the Sheraton Suites Dam.
Both have history.
The Sheraton Suites Dam is on the site of a dam built in 1825-26 by Henry Newberry, the first mayor of Cuyahoga Falls.
The LeFever Dam was built in the early 1900s to provide power to the Falls Lumber Co.
The city acquired both dams in the 1970s, Demasi said.
Removal would cost an estimated $1 million, Demasi said. While the deal isn't final, the money could come from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and the Ohio EPA.
''It's not a done deal . . . but all the pieces are in place,'' he said.
The sewer district, based in Cuyahoga Heights, would get a low-interest state-backed loan and would fund the dam removal with a portion of the money it would save on its own sewer projects funded by the loan.
The cost includes $650,000 to remove the dams, plus $150,000 for shoreline erosion control and plantings and $170,000 for planning and design.
Final approval of the financing through the Ohio EPA's Water Resource Restoration Sponsor program is expected in December, Demasi said.
Once that happens, Cuyahoga Falls would have to initiate feasibility, historical preservation, restoration and engineering studies that could take six to nine months, he said.
Removal probably wouldn't begin until mid- to late 2012, he said.
Cuyahoga Falls is celebrating its 200th birthday in August 2012 and it would be great timing if the removal could at least be started by then, he said.
It is likely that additional rapids would appear in the river after the dam pools disappear, he said.
That could help make a narrower Cuyahoga River a whitewater destination for paddlers, he said.
What is likely to emerge is a series of rapids, riffles and pools, said veteran paddler Elaine Marsh of Bath Township, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Crooked River, an eco-group devoted to the Cuyahoga River.
The new rapids would not be as big as those near the Sheraton Suites, she said.
It would be a more-scenic river and one that would appeal to anglers, she said.
If the two Cuyahoga Falls dams and the Ohio Edison Co. dam are removed, the river could be a challenge to three levels of paddlers, she said.
Beginners would be able to use the river south to Water Works Park or perhaps Bailey Road.
Intermediates could paddle to the LeFever Dam site.
From LeFever, it would be experts only to the Chuckery Area of Cascade Valley Metro Park, she said.
Getting the dams removed would boost water quality, make a more natural river, create a new tourist attraction and ''be a major triumph'' for the river, she said.