A plan is now in place to bring down the Gorge Dam in the next four years.
Officials presented the plan with a timeline to a crowd at the Cuyahoga Falls Natatorium Tuesday night. If all goes as expected, the Gorge Dam could come down by 2023 at an estimated cost of $65 million to $70 million.
The Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA have signed a cooperative project agreement, and a remedial design is in progress to remove the sediment and dismantle the 20-foot-wide, 60-foot-tall dam.
Funding has been approved through the Great Lakes Legacy Act with cost-share provided by the city of Akron and other stakeholders.
The Gorge Dam Stakeholder Committee, comprising representatives from the Ohio EPA, the city of Akron, Summit MetroParks, FirstEnergy and the city of Cuyahoga Falls, has been pushing for the dam’s removal for years.
Doing so will improve the river's water quality and the health of the surrounding ecosystem, and is expected to draw tourism to the region. The dam impedes the flow of the Cuyahoga River at the border of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls.
The U.S. EPA’s project lead, Mark Loomis, said cooperation between various groups is key to the project’s success.
“The Cuyahoga Gorge project, where it stands and also where it’s projected to go, would not be possible without both federal funds, as well as our partners at the state, the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, and also the city of Akron,” he said.
The majority of the project cost will be spent removing and building storage for more than 500 acres of sediment from a nearly 1.-5 mile pool behind the dam.
A U.S. EPA study, conducted between 2009 and 2011, concluded the sediment from the dam pool can’t be discharged downstream but can be removed without requiring special disposal because it is not harmful to human health. It is, however harmful to the river’s ecosystem, Loomis said.
The Legacy Act of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is planned to pay for 65 percent of the sediment removal. The Legacy Act was launched in 2002 and has used federal funding to work on 23 sites in “areas of concern” around the Great Lakes, evaluating sediment and positioning the sites for cleanup.
For the Gorge Dam, the U.S. EPA is now working with Jacobs, a design, engineering and construction company, on plans for removal and storage of the sediment, possibly to a site near the dam on Cuyahoga Street.
To remove the dam structure, the U.S. EPA is working with the city of Akron to obtain a grant or incremental grant funding. The removal of the sediment will be concurrent with the structure’s removal to keep the project efficient and as cost effective as possible, Loomis said.
The Gorge Dam is the last -- and largest -- dam in a string of man-made structures that have been taken down in Kent, Munroe Falls and Cuyahoga Falls.
To learn more about the Gorge Dam project, visit the Legacy Act’s website Great Lakes Mud.