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Cuyahoga Falls to see Dam Deconstruction Start this Year

Once the dams are gone, the river will heal and recreation can begin. But the process won't begin until at least Dec. 1.

Don't count on seeing those category five whitewater rapids in the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Falls this summer. But there's a good chance you'll be riding them next year.

Deconstruction of the and dams on the Cuyahoga River will begin right after the city’s , said Cuyahoga Falls engineer Tony Demasi. If all goes well, the dams could be down by Dec. 1.

“A lot of work that we’re going to be doing is going to be behind the scenes,” Demasi said. "Designs need to be finalized and permits need to be approved before the Army Corps of Engineers and the contractors can start work on the river. We may not see any construction until September or October.”

Previous delays and have stalled the process to remove the nearly 100-year-old dams and restore the Cuyahoga River. The project is paid for with a $1 million grant from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewage District through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Archeologists will be on hand

The Cuyahoga Falls Department of Engineering will select a team of contractors next week. Bids for the job range between $960,000 and $980,000. All of the teams bidding for the job include environmental scientists, contractors, engineers and archaeologists, who will be on hand in case artifacts are unearthed.

“Who knows what we’ll find,” Demasi mused. “We could find shopping carts, bikes, a car. Hopefully, it’s not just junk. Hopefully, it’s things that are precious to our city that we can look at and give us some background on our history.”

Demasi said there's also the possibility of finding previous dams that have been covered with water and flooded once the current dams were built. There have been dams of all shapes and sizes along the Cuyahoga since 1812, Demasi said.

Originally built in 1914

The dams were built in 1914 to generate power and later electricity. The Samira dam, 11 feet high, was originally used for the Walsh Paper Company. The Sheraton dam, 7 feet high, was built for the , a mill that produced steel, rubber, copper and clay products. The turbines used to convert water flow into energy have long been removed, but the dams remained.

“They’ve never been removed for whatever reason,” Demasi said. “They’ve just been sitting there.”

The engineering department and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency have been discussing the dam removals since 2007. The Ohio EPA conducted a study on the river’s environmental health in 2003. The EPA found progress has been made since the Clean Water Act of 1976, but the dams are an impediment to optimal water quality because they interfere with the river’s oxygen, phosphorus and nitrogen levels.

Allowing the river to heal itself

Once the dams are removed, the water level will go down, flow faster and more shoreline will be exposed. Measurements of the river show it will also produce category four and five whitewater rapids.

Ultimately, the goal is for the river to look like there were never any dams. Demasi said the dams will be sliced into chunks the size of desks and either removed or re-used along some of the banks.

“We’re going to take a step back and see what the river’s going to do,” he said. “We want it to heal itself, go wherever it wants to be, but we’re going to have the ability to go in and see if it needs a little help here, a little help here,” he said gesturing with his hands, adding they might plant some trees or shrubs native to the area. The EPA will also monitor the river.

Kayaking, canoeing and whitewater rafting

Meanwhile, the Department of Parks and Recreation has hired Colorado-based Mclaughlin Whitewater Design Group to do an inital assessment of recreational opportunities for everyone, not just the experts, for kayaking, canoeing and whitewater rafting upstream of the Sheraton dam.

“There are already category four whitewater rapids beneath the Sheraton dam. That’s a little bit beyond recreation,” said Ed Stewart, assistant superintendent in the Department of Parks and Recreation. “What we’re looking at is what opportunities we may have a little more upstream when the dams come down as a truly recreational form of whitewater rafting and where we would have access to get in and out of the river.

“Once the dams come down and we get a better view of what we have, that’s when the real work will be done to see what we have and what we can do.”

Dave July 06, 2012 at 03:17 PM
I never saw the word "fish" mentioned here. All you talk about is how much money you will make off the recreation. So because the fishermen choose not to mention how we enjoy the recreation of this river, you all think you know what everyone else needs this river for. Fish off!!
Kate Bigam July 07, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Slightly confused by Dave's comment, though I'm curious to know how the dam deconstruction will affect area wildlife. That aside, I like the idea of kayaking & such on the Cuyahoga. Could be good for Cuyahoga Falls!
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! July 07, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Removing the dams drastically improves the health and vitality of rivers for wildlife and also humans. Any fisherman that doesn't value healthy, natural waters isn't worth his hook, line and sinker. And who still eats the fish from the river we toxified beyond belief? http://epa.ohio.gov/dsw/fishadvisory/index.aspx http://www.epa.ohio.gov/dsw/fishadvisory/limitmeals.aspx Because of water contaminants including mercury and PCBs, it is important to limit the amount of certain fish you consume from the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. Exceeding the amount of advised consumption may cause health problems.
Jim Davis July 10, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Category 4 downstream sounds very recreational if managed properly by a commercial operator like http://www.aceadventures.co.uk/ What is it with grumpy fishers??? Surely a flowing river beats a clogged up controlled river hands down in all respects. Great project love it!
crazyriver July 11, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Let's be clear on one main issue to this project; it is about improving water quality in the Cuyahoga River. There will be changes in the flow and characteristics of the river along with changes to the aquatic habitats. The dam pools will be replaced by flowing water that will increase dissolved oxygen levels and promote aquatic diversity as the river channel narrows and begins its descent into downtown. There may appear small ledges followed by deeper pools and boulder clusters as the river flows over the Sharon Sandstone. Gravel bars will move and new channels will be discoverd as the river settles into its new environment. Fish species will adapt to the flowing river and future restoration actions should ensure that aquatic life is provided a river habitat that allows proliferation and diversity. River clean ups similar to those in Kent will assist in removing the debris and trash from the past, while improving water quality and removing hazards to recreation. The goal is to balance the needs of all stakeholders in the community, and provide a Cuyahoga River that benefits from the water quality improvements realized by the dam deconstruction project. At some point, all man-made structures reach the end of their useful life and require attention and money. It seems as if we are at that point in time and funds are available. And if all of the above actions also allow new paddling opportunities, isn't that just icing on the cake? Dave H
Jon July 12, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Fish like oxygen, so I suppose they want the dams down too.

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