The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a nationwide permit, which will allow for the removal of the low-head dams adjacent to the Sheraton Suites and defunct Samira restaurant, Cuyahoga Falls officials announced Friday.
Federal approval came Dec. 12, and officials have been working since then to get the project back on track.
"Cuyahoga Falls is excited to have this long awaited project begin to move forward," said Cuyahoga Falls Service Director Valerie Wax Carr in a prepared statement. "The city and its project team, RiverWorks, and the Ohio EPA are finalizing demolition plans. Demolition will begin early summer of 2013, dependent upon weather conditions and water levels."
The project will cost just under $1 million, and will be paid for by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Two outreach sessions have been scheduled to inform the public of the necessity of the dam removal and what is in store for the Cuyahoga River in the near- and long-term future, said Carr.
The meetings will take place in the Sutliff Room at the Cuyahoga Falls Library on Jan. 16 at 2 p.m., and on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m., she said.
The dams are being removed to restore Cuyahoga Falls’ segment of the river so that it meets Ohio Water Quality Standards for aquatic life and habitat, and removing the dams is the path to meeting that goal.
According to one project document, dams negatively impact river systems by serving as barriers to fish migration and reduce fish habitat. They also act as sediment traps and modify water quality.
An Ohio Environmental Protection Agency project summary stated that the Cuyahoga River upstream of Cuyahoga Falls saw rapid improvements after modifications to the Kent dam in 2004 and removal of the Munroe Falls dam in 2008.
Successful completion of those projects showed improvement in biological water quality, habitat and elimination of low-dissolved oxygen concentrations in the dam pools.
The two dams in Cuyahoga Falls will be removed as one project, according to the Ohio EPA. Adjoining structures will be stabilized to prevent structural failure due to the change in water pressures, velocities and levels associated with dam removal.
In an Oct. 8 interview with Patch, Cuyahoga Falls Engineer Tony Demasi said the process would be slow going, as contractors “will cut notches into each dam to lower the water a little bit at a time.”
A 2008 hydraulic engineering study confirmed the change in water levels would have no adverse effects on riverfront properties, the EPA reported.
And, in the end, Cuyahoga Falls will still have waterfalls.
“Instead of one waterfall right there at the Sheraton, when the dam comes out there are natural waterfalls within the river that no one has seen in 100 years,” he explained.
With planning efforts under way to remove or modify the Gorge and Brecksville dams in the next several years, removal of the two Cuyahoga Falls dams is critical to the continued restoration of the Cuyahoga River watershed, the EPA reported.
Once all of the planned dam removals are completed, the lower 59 miles (about two-thirds of the river length) of the Cuyahoga River will be free flowing.
The Cuyahoga Falls Department of Parks and Recreation has hired Colorado-based McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group to do an initial 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, in a July6 interview with Patch. “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.”