By danny restivo
Several government and organizational leaders hope citizen support will finalize a $2.4 million grant to clean up the Mahoning River.
“Right now we have 1,200 letters for the Ohio EPA, and I’m hoping for more,” said James Iudiciani Sr., village mayor.
The mayor spoke alongside state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, representatives from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Western Reserve Port Authority and members of the Friends of the Mahoning River during a Democratic Club meeting Monday night at village hall.
Nearly 70 attendees listened as members tried to drum up support for the dam-removal project.
Schiavoni said by garnering as many signatures and letters as possible, citizens are sending a strong message to Ohio EPA officials about how seriously residents are taking the project. He said the public comments are a requirement for the grant and must be submitted by Monday. Schiavoni also said the comments have the potential to lead to more grants.
“When you see the state is going to give $2.4 million, you’ve got to get your foot in the door and keep pushing,” Schiavoni said. “It’s also about getting people excited because we’ve been waiting for this for so long.”
The Ohio EPA ranked Lowellville’s application for its First Street dam fourth among applications from 15 communities for river- restoration projects, Iudiciani said. The village worked in conjunction with the cities of Campbell and Struthers to secure the grant in an effort to create a clean river for all three locations.
“What we’re envisioning is a river with no dams that will allow canoeists to travel from downtown Youngstown all the way into Lowellville,” Iudiciani said.
The dams are an artifact of the steel mills and other industrial facilities, which used to line portions of the river. The dams were built to accumulate large pools of water for use in the plants. The water was pumped in to cool industrial equipment before being released back into the river without being treated.
Officials said an estimated 40,000 cubic yards of heavy-metal sediment needs to be dredged from the river. Iudiciani said removal of the dam would cost around $200,000, while a majority of the grant would be allocated to dredging along the river’s banks.
He said it costs $30 per cubic yard to remove the contaminated soil, equaling a $1.2 million price tag for the collection.
John Kwolek, OEPA district engineer, said the Mahoning River had received grants for feasibility studies, but never any state funding for cleanup or dam removal. He said the river’s ecosystem is beginning to regain life after years of pollution, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“It’s a big undertaking, and we’re going to see a lot of activity here in the next few years,” Kwolek said.