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River resurgence?

Published: Mon, July 30, 2012 @ 12:09 a.m.

Group begins long, costly project to clean the Mahoning


(L-R) Pat Billett, John Kwolek, and Patricia Natalie make up 3 of the 5 Friends of the Mahoning River. They plan to fundraise for the cleaning of the Mahoning River to remove contaminated sediments and make it a more functional area. They are seen behind the B & O restaurant which has a direct view of the river in Youngstown, Ohio.

By Elise Franco



While many look at the Mahoning River and see a hopeless reminder of what it once was, the Friends of the Mahoning River see opportunity.

The group, which has about 50 active members, has a long-term goal of completely cleaning the contaminated sediment and removing six of the river’s eight dams.

John Kwolek, of Canfield, said most of the dams were built during the steel boom to cool water near the factories and no longer serve a purpose. He said Friends of the Mahoning River is in the process of applying for nonprofit status, which would allow it to apply for state grants that are needed to begin the cleanup process.

“Each cleanup and dam removal will cost about $5 million,” he said. “The process is time-consuming and very competitive.”

The river’s sediment is so contaminated that Kwolek said it’s currently under a dermal contact advisory, which means that the sediment in portions of the river could cause a skin reaction.

“One of our goals is to get that lifted,” he said. “We owe it to the river to clean it up.”

Kwolek said removing the dams and contaminated sediment will help restore free-flow to the river, which will allow wildlife and recreation to re-emerge.

“It will create a free-flowing system where fish can migrate back and forth,” he said. “Economically, a clean river will be a benefit to any area. Once you do the cleanup, you get the recreation back.”

Patricia Natali, of Youngstown, said the group also focuses on educating the public about the importance of its cause.

Natali said the group meets monthly and is planning a RiverFest event on Oct. 6 at the B&O Station on Mahoning Avenue in Youngstown.

“People have this attitude of, ‘Who cares? It’s the Mahoning River,’” Natali said. “Getting the river back in shape would bring an appreciation back to the city and jumpstart economic development.” Kwolek said Valley residents’ attitudes toward the Mahoning need to change.

“The Mahoning River has been excommunicated,” he said. “We have a generation of people here who have never made the river a part of their lives. No other place is like that, but here, nobody gives it a second thought.”

Kwolek noted that other Ohio cities, such as Columbus, Cleveland, Kent and Cuyahoga Falls, have successfully obtained grant money, cleaned their rivers and incorporated them into their way of life.

“A clean river can mean fishing, canoeing, kayaking, biking, river walks. These are all activities we would like to see here,” he said.

Group members admit that they have lofty ambitions and a long way to go, however.

Ed Wilk of Lordstown said he knows the cleanup effort will take time, and its success largely depends on the availability of grant funding. Wilk said even if the group achieves its cleanup goal, the work will continue.

“Once the river is clean it will be an unrestricted effort in bringing back the habitat,” he said. “And the cultural effort will never end.”


1walter_sobchak(2672 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Kwolek is absolutely correct! This river was used to make the steel that built military vehicles and ships, autos, appliances, buildings, etc. It was used to help this country grow and prosper, not to mention win a few wars. The least the country can do is clean it up now.

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2NoBS(2758 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

So many buzzwords, so many catchphrases! "can jumpstart the economy!" "Will spur economic recovery!" Absolutely the river needs to be cleaned up, but as things are now a riverwalk will just give the bums and criminals a new place to go. It will be like trying to walk past the bus terminal - try and do that without being hit up for money a couple of times.

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3CongressWatcher(225 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Agreed Utica. Where do I sign up as well?

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4captainpeewee(76 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

put some of thows welfare bum,s to work they arn,t doing anything other then having baby,s let them earn there gov check.

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5WarrenRicheyKid(169 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Good article. No reason why Youngstown can duplicate the success of Dayton and Columbus with their rivers.

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6rmzrez(134 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago


Some people are low income for what ever reason and some are just low class by choice . From some of the above comments can you guess who the low class ones are .

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7cambridge(4064 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

How about tracking down the companies that polluted the river along with their insurance companies and let them pay for it. If the tax payer pays for the clean up it's just more corporate welfare, so "put some of thows welfare bum,s to work they arn,t doing anything other then making money let them earn there gov welfare."

I think my spell check just blue up!

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8republicanRick(1716 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Hey Cambridge, along your lines of thinking, why don't we also track down old steelworkers and have them kick in to clean up the river. The steelworkers benefited by the mills. And, let's have the steelworkers kids pay too, they benefited.

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9walter_sobchak(2672 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Most of the steel companies that were located along the river are no longer in business or are far-removed from what they once were. In any event, these companies most likely violated no major laws as they were just conducting their business as all companies did in the US. There was no way the US would have stopped the companies from expanding once WWII came around. Most of the pollution has long since washed away to the oceans. Actually, the water near the top of the river is actually pretty clean.The exception are the heavy metals, coal tar, PCB's, etc. that are in the sediment. But, similar to when the Superfund was established to clean toxic waste dumps, it was the lawyers that gobbled up most of the fund trying to established whom caused the problem. Soon after its inception, administrators were calling on the govt. to just clean the sites and not waste the funds on legal fees. Such is the case here.

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10cambridge(4064 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

walter....Thanks for the explanation. I guess the laws back then let companies do whatever they wanted as long as they made a buck. If they ruined the environment or polluted the water, oh well. Kind of like fracking huh?

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11AnotherAverageCitizen(1193 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Just think. 25 years after fracking, we will get to pay to clean up the river again. Not that I am against fracking, but just do it safely and enviromentally freindly.

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12TOP_E(6 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Thank you vindy for posting this story. I made a phone call and soon hope to be on the roster of Friends...
We have canoed the river from B&O station to New Castle. Its a nice scenic river, the water isnt that deep, and there is a slight slope and current so you dont have to get tired of rowing. Thru Youngstown you will see tires and some trash, but the river seems to have a way of cleansing itself. The scenery from Lowellville thru Pa is beautiful. Since there is a train track r/w on either side, natures views arent spoiled by development. My friends have caught healthy bass, white bass, and catfish. A couple of cranes seem to be there every time, and stay about 50 yards ahead of us the whole way down.
Again, thanks vindy, Pat,John and Patricia, and hope a lot people feel like i do and become "Friends"!

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13DSquared(1778 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Remove the dams and nature will do most of the work. Where are our Senators and Representatives on this? Money for windmills and solar panels and other nonsense, but not even a discussion about this issue. Please support a river clean up.

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14southsidedave(5189 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

time-consuming & expensive, best of luck...

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