Investing in the Mahoning makeover

I’ve had the pleasure to live in a handful of cool towns, and one common trait in several of them is a natural water feature.

Elmira-Corning, N.Y., made great use of the Chemung River.

Rockford, Ill., is aggressive with its use of the Rock River.

I lived not too far from South Bend, Ind., where the St. Joseph River fed into an old shipping canal that was converted to a whitewater rafting park in the middle of the city.

And now I live here, where the Mahoning River is ... ?

It just is.

Among the many challenges we have in the Valley, one of them is restoring the Mahoning and making it a vibrant resource.

In 2011, The Vindicator teamed up with our news partners at The NewsOutlet at Youngstown State University to offer an extensive report on the river.

You can find the story on by searching “Mahoning River” and “By Caitlin Cook.”

Among the story’s offerings:

The river has been so contaminated that in 1988, the Ohio Department of Health warned against contact with sediments and fish consumption along the lower 28 miles of the river, which includes the area flowing through Youngstown.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a $500,000 study in 1999 and determined that regardless of how much the water quality improves over the years, the Mahoning cannot be deemed restored until the miles of contaminated sediments are addressed.

The nine major steel mills along the Mahoning were Republic Steel Corp. Warren plant; Republic Steel Niles plant; U.S. Steel Corp. McDonald Works; Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.’s Brier Hill Works; U.S. Steel Corp. Ohio Works; Republic Steel Corp., Youngstown; Youngstown Sheet & Tube Campbell Works; and Sharon Steel Corp., Lowellville.

The U.S. EPA reported that the average net discharge from those nine steel plants exceeded 400,000 pounds per day of suspended solids, 70,000 pounds per day of oil and grease, 9,000 pounds per day of ammonia-nitrogen, 500 pounds per day of cyanide, 600 pounds per day of phenolics and 800 pounds per day of zinc.

It goes on. In short, it’s a mess. And sadly, it’s seemingly abandoned in terms of who was shepherding its revival.

That’s why it was thrilling to read this past week in The Vindicator about the creation of the Friends of the Mahoning River.

They are just a group of five, but Patricia Natali is excited that after this week’s Vindy publicity, that will soon grow — just in time for two important August meetings.

One caller from Howland wanted to donate money. (Not ready yet.)

An elderly lady said she did not have any money but can contribute in other ways. (They’ll think of something.)

Another guy said call him when they get to the physical part. (They will.)

“There are a lot of good things happening now,” she said.

The group realizes it’s a long road, and they’ve launched two initiatives to start the march.

“Riverfest” will be their breakout event in October, and this Tuesday, the group will meet to continue organizing that event.

That meeting will be at the Austintown Library, and begins at 5:30 p.m.

“Riverfest,” said Natali, will serve to educate folks on the river and be an environmental call-to-arms of sorts for the river. It’s set for the B&O Station area.

The Friends also will meet Aug. 27 for more work on the overall organizing of the Friends group. That meeting will be at the downtown library.

We’re at a great period in our community. You’ll see me write this again this fall — it’s second time around for us.

First time was steel. Now it is energy.

As we grow into this new industry and the resulting riches, we need to properly position our community to benefit in a sustained and permanent way — draw positively as we did from the riches of steel without enduring the pains that the steel era left us.

One of the first steps with this second chance should be to invest in the Mahoning makeover.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on

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