Local, state and federal organizations are hiring a contractor to guide the next steps in the removal of the Gorge Dam.
The project — which will not be done for "several more years," according to state and federal officials — inched forward this month as the city of Akron and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to spend $1.3 million to design a plan to remove 832,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment piled up behind the dam, or enough sludge to fill 24,000 school buses.
This planning stage will be the second in four project phases, the last of which will bring down the dam. The third phase involves the actual work of removing and transporting the sediment, and improving the aquatic life around the site.
A previous estimate of removing the dam in 2019, on the 50th anniversary of the polluted Cuyahoga River catching fire in Cleveland, is unlikely as partners on the projects will still be planning the next steps for another year.
Heidi Griesmer with the Ohio EPA said phase two, which is just the planning for work in phase three, will take 18 months once a contractor is selected to do the engineering. "From there, we expect that phase three would take about three years. Right now there is not funding for phase three, so we can’t say that it would immediately follow phase two."
As a local sponsor on the state and federally funded project, Akron is expected to contribute $750,000 total, which the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has already committed, said Chris Ludle, Akron’s deputy director of Public Service.
During the first phase of this massive undertaking, the Ohio EPA commissioned a feasibility study in 2015 that priced the dam’s removal at $12,554,000 and capturing the sediment at $57 million. The federal government has agreed to cover 65 percent of the $70 million cost to bring down the 57-foot-high dam and restore the surrounding ecosystem.
Removing the sediment would take the length of the Cuyahoga River through Gorge Metro Park off a federal list as an environmental "area of concern." The river would flow freely from the dam at Lake Rockwell before turning north through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and spilling into Lake Erie.
"This project is a critical piece in restoring the Cuyahoga River, an important resource to Northeast Ohio, to a more natural state," said Mayor Dan Horrigan in a press release with the Ohio and U.S. EPAs. "This vital work is being done in conjunction with other projects that focus on the city of Akron’s long-term commitment to improve water quality for the region."
The Ohio EPA previously has said the sediment will be dredged then piped downstream into large mesh tubes off Cuyahoga Street in North Akron. There, water draining from the sediment will be captured and treated.
The Gorge Dam was built in 1913 to provide hydroelectric power for the city’s trolley cars for the next 45 years. Until 1992, a local coal-fired power plant cooled itself on the waters that gathered in the dam’s pool. It hasn’t been used to generate power in 23 years.
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