CUYAHOGA FALLS — It will be years before the Gorge Dam in the Gorge Metro Park is removed.

Representatives from the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection agencies, Summit Metro Parks and others involved in the project discussed the status of the dam removal during a two-hour meeting that drew more than 200 people at the Natatorium on Tuesday night.

According to Summit Metro Parks, the 420-foot-wide, 60-foot-tall dam between Akron and Cuyahoga Falls is an impediment to the water quality of the Cuyahoga River, and its removal should improve river ecology, create recreational opportunities and drive economic benefits.

The removal could also reveal the buried waterfall for which Cuyahoga Falls is named.

"[The] Cuyahoga Gorge has been on our radar for a while … I see a lot of potential for Gorge just on the recreational side alone,” said Mark Loomis, the U.S. EPA federal task force lead for the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern.

 

4 project phases

The multiyear project officials say will improve the river’s water quality is split into four phases. The first included a feasibility study commissioned by the Ohio EPA in 2015 that estimated the project at $70 million — more than $12.5 million for the dam’s removal and $57 million for removing the sediment piled up behind the dam in a 34-acre reservoir that stretches 1.4 miles.

The second phase includes designing a plan to remove the 832,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. In 2018, the city of Akron and the U.S. EPA agreed to spend $1.3 million to design the plan.

The third phase will involve the removal of the contaminated sediment, and the fourth will be the removal of the dam. Megan Shaeffer, cultural resource coordinator with Summit Metro Parks, said one possible location for the removed sediment, which includes heavy metals, oil and grease, is the Chuckery/Oxbow area of Cascade Valley Metro Park.

The project is in the second phase, with national consulting firm Jacobs Engineering Group working to design a plan to remove the contaminated sediment.

"We have a contractor working with design, and it's going to take a little bit,” Loomis said. “We want to do this right."

The U.S. EPA is conducting the second phase with money from the Legacy Act Program of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provides federal funding to accelerate contaminated sediment remediation in Areas of Concern.

In 1992, the Area of Concern advisory committee identified 10 impairments with the Cuyahoga River. Seven impairments remain: degradation of fish populations, fish tumors or other deformities, degradation of benthos (what lives on the bottom of the river), restrictions on navigational dredging, eutrophication or undesirable algae, beach closings and loss of fish habitat.

According to the Cuyahoga River Restoration website, removal of the Gorge Dam will help with degradation of fish populations, degradation of benthos and loss of fish habitat.

 

Timeline

Karla Auker with the U.S. EPA’s Westlake office said the engineering group will conduct sampling at the dam this summer to fill data gaps for the design to get a better idea of what the dam pool and the area look like. The design to remove the sediment should be 30 percent done by this December and 90 percent done or complete by the end of 2020.

Other steps between now and 2020 include the U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA and the city of Akron working to secure Great Lakes Legacy Act sediment remediation funding, and the U.S. EPA working with the city of Akron to provide a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant for the design of the removal of the dam.

By 2022, the Ohio EPA should build an area to store the removed sediment, and the U.S. EPA should have a contract for sediment removal and transportation.

Dredging the sediment and removing the dam could happen as early as 2022, although the removal of the dam could be pushed back to 2023 or later, as both the schedule and federal funding are tentative and could change.

 

History

The dam’s removal has been a project years in the making.

The Ohio EPA began discussions with FirstEnergy in 2004 about removing the dam.

It was built in 1911 by the Northern Ohio Traction & Light Co, a predecessor of FirstEnergy, to provide hydroelectric power for Akron’s trolley cars and later provided the cooling water for the coal-fired Gorge Power Plant. The hydro-power operation was shut down in 1958, and the power plant was shut down in 1991; it was razed in 2009.

There were proposals in recent years to develop a hydroelectric plant at the Gorge Dam to generate electricity from the flow of the Cuyahoga River, but the projects weren’t developed.

Dams in Kent, Munroe Falls and two in Cuyahoga Falls have already been removed or modified in recent years to improve Cuyahoga River water quality.

Partners on the Gorge Dam removal project include the cities of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, FirstEnergy, Summit County, Summit Metro Parks, Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA.

For more information and for updates on the project, visit greatlakesmud.org.

 

Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.