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Dam removal flowing

Effort continues to clear Mahoning River of structures

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic A sign at Canoe City MetroPark warns boaters to get out of the water before the Leavittsburg dam. Of the nine dams along the Mahoning River targeted for removal by the Eastgate Council of Governments, one in Lowellville is demolished, another in Struthers partly is demolished and four are funded, with two slated to stay and the Leavittsburg dam expected to be funded soon.

During a December dedication for a new boat launch near where the Lowellville dam once was, Mayor James Iudiciani Sr. said he and former Struthers Mayor Terry Stocker and the late former Campbell Mayor William Vansuch first explored removing dams along the Mahoning River in 2011.

“It took 10 years to get here, but, man, it’s beautiful and we love it,” Iudiciani said.

The Lowellville dam was the first fully removed dam of nine targeted by the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments in a multicommunity project estimated to cost $26 million.

That dam removal rang in at approximately $2.3 million, mostly funded through grants. The new dock and canoe livery initially were estimated at $144,000, with a 50-50 match from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, according to newspaper archives.

The $3.2 million project to remove the next dam, located near South Bridge Street in Struthers, began in July. Five concrete piers that had supported a train trestle and five shorter piers have been removed, leaving water to flow freely over the roughly 240-foot-long dam.

“Weather permitting, they’ll begin chipping away with that and remove the dam down to stream level,” Stephanie Dyer, environmental manager with Eastgate, said.

This year will see more work along the river, with removal of Youngstown’s three dams — which will cost $3 million, according to Dyer — funded through the Ohio EPA Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program (WRRPS).

Youngstown still is looking for sponsors for the program. The funding is generated from the interest on the EPA’s loans for water pollution improvements, Dyer said. The sponsors can come from anywhere in Ohio.

Next along the Mahoning come the Girard Liberty Street and the Warren Township Main Street dams — both which will stay in place for now, as they are used by mills, Dyer said.

The Warren Summit Street dam, an approximately $3.25 million project, is funded for removal through the WRRPS and is looking for sponsors as well, with the engineering phase of the process about wrapped up, according to Dyer. Next will come dredging and then deconstruction.

“We can’t remove the dams without dredging,” Dyer said, explaining contaminated sediments accumulate behind dams and in hot spots nearby.

The sediment removed through dredging is dewatered. The water is treated at a wastewater plant before it is returned to the river, and the sediment is sent elsewhere.

In the case of the Lowellville dam, the removed sediment was tested to make sure it was not hazardous then was sent to a landfill to be used as daily cover, Dyer said.

The final dam slated for removal, the Leavittsburg dam near Canoe City MetroPark, is expected to be funded when the Ohio EPA announces its next round of projects.

The Trumbull County MetroParks Board approved the removal of that dam, which is owned by the metroparks, in April, despite a petition of 650 signatures strong against the dam’s removal .

Residents have expressed concerns over the river’s water level if the dam is taken out, as well as septic system exposure and flooding.

Dyer said Eastgate has been working with the sanitary engineer’s office and the EPA in an attempt to get sanitary sewer lines in place in the areas with septic systems that discharge into the river.

Dyer said talking to residents in that area, she also has heard concerns about the wildlife disappearing.

“Dam removal does not mean that the wildlife is going to disappear. It’s going to enhance wildlife. It’s going to promote more fish migration up and down the river. You’re not going to see the eagles disappear. The eagles don’t care if there’s a dam or not,” Dyer said.

She said the removals also will make water recreation along the river safer, as the dams have proved dangerous to boaters in the past.

She said business along the river may improve as well once it is more accessible for recreation, pointing to the Cuyahoga River as an example.

“It just shows you how a community just comes to life once you beautify a river and put it back into its natural state,” Dyer said.

The Leavittsburg dam likely will not be removed for several years and will follow on the heels of the Warren Summit Street dam.

In August, Zachary Svette, executive director of the metroparks, estimated the preliminary costs for an engineering study, environmental review, soil inspection and bridge inspection for the Leavittsburg dam at fewer than $25,000.

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