Cuyahoga Falls dam removal meeting draws crowd (with video)

by ellin walsh | REPOrter Published:

Cuyahoga Falls -- A crowd including kayaking enthusiasts, riverside homeowners and a nervous bride-to-be filled Lions Lodge Feb. 27, wondering what awaits when the Cuyahoga River is allowed to flow free.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit 2 1/2 months ago, authorizing the removal of two dams in the city; the catalyst is a desire to restore the river to its natural state. The dams coming down include the one behind Samira Restaurant and the one behind the Sheraton Suites Hotel.

The dams are slated to be removed this summer, with the approximate $1 million cost being covered by a state grant. The Sheraton dam will come down first in June and the other in July.

One member of the approximate 150-strong audience asked who "has dibs" on any artifacts uncovered through the dam removal process.

The city's service director, Valerie Wax Carr, said the city is partnering with the Cuyahoga Falls Historical Society to ensure such items are preserved in a place they can be shared with the community.

Another audience member inquired how the unleashed river will affect property lines.

Bill Zawiski, a biologist for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said it will depend on the type of deed a property owner possesses: edge-of-water or pin-survey.

The service director acknowledged residents in the River Estates area of Cuyahoga Falls and Silver Lake will probably have questions as the dam removal process progresses because they live along the river.

"As the water starts to change and the land starts to change," Wax Carr said, "we'll work with them [affected homeowners] one-on-one to make sure they understand what is theirs."

Wax Carr said the city will be setting up a website and "a hot line" to address issues.

Wax Carr said the Office Bistro, a restaurant at 1846 Front St., already has a live-stream camera on the Sheraton dam. A similar set-up is anticipated for LeFever's, she reported. "Both of those will have a live stream to our website," the service director said, adding, "While the work is going on, you'll be able to watch it."

Another audience member asked if fish caught in the local stretch of the Cuyahoga River will be safe to eat in the next few years if contaminants previously held back by the dams are unleashed. Zawiski said employees of that agency regularly collect fish tissue results and "we do not have any advisories against consuming fish in the Cuyahoga River here."

A July bride and her father voiced concerns that the timing of the dam removal at the Sheraton might spoil the vista for her wedding reception. Wax Carr said she cannot promise, but will do her best to work with Sheraton representatives "so that you don't have a bulldozer in the back of your pictures."

A woman in the audience said she is having a difficult time getting enthusiastic about the demolition of the dams. She said she didn't know there was a problem with the structures until the EPA offered to foot the expense of removing them and, coincidentally, in her opinion, city officials began touting the possibility of expanded recreational opportunities. She also questioned whether the city will have to secure an expensive liability policy if it capitalizes on sports like whitewater rafting and kayaking.

"I'm kind of hearing [from you] that there may be a conspiracy that we're doing all this for … economic gain," Wax Carr said. "Honestly, that [increased recreational possibility] was a byproduct that came out once the dams were [being] removed. We have people from Colorado calling us saying. 'Do you know what you have? Do you know the potential? We didn't know …"

"But we want to become a destination -- I'm not going to lie," Wax Carr said.

ewalsh@recordpub.com

phone number: 330-541-9419

In the accompanying video, Cuyahoga Falls City Service Director Valerie Wax Carr, Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart and Joel Bingham, restoration biologist for EnviroScience, discuss some of the plans for removal of two dams in the city.

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