By danny restivo
A collaborative effort among officials from three towns could set a precedent for area villages and cities situated along the Mahoning River.
“This might start a chain reaction in getting all the dams removed up to Trumbull County,” said Struthers Mayor Terry P. Stocker.
Stocker, Lowellville Mayor James Iudiciani and Campbell Mayor Bill VanSuch have come together to create a cleaner Mahoning River from which the three towns can prosper.
“By working together, we’re showing the state that we’re serious about our river,” Iudiciani said.
Their Mahoning River cleanup effort began nearly a year ago when all three met to discuss dam-removal options. They agreed their residents could benefit from a cleaner and safer river. The mayors said an influx in business from potential “river enthusiasts” looking to canoe or kayak could greatly change the polluted perception of the river and the towns along it.
Iudiciani cited expert estimates that removing the five dams from Youngs-town to Lowellville could generate millions of dollars in economic activity for restaurants, canoe liveries and other businesses.
“When we were children, our parents told us just to stay away from the river because no one knew what was exactly in it,” Stocker said. “Now, we’ve realized this river is an asset to our area, and we can benefit from it.”
Their efforts are coming to fruition. After applying for an Ohio EPA dam- removal grant in November, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, announced Lowellville had tentatively been awarded $2.4 million from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 19. The Ohio EPA ranked Lowellville’s application for its First Street dam fourth among applications from the agency’s 15 other river- restoration projects, Iudiciani said.
The state agency will award four grants totaling $10 million statewide under its Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program. According to the Ohio EPA website, the Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program was created to counter the loss of ecological function and biological diversity that jeopardizes the health of Ohio’s water resources.
The mayors said Lowellville was the best starting point for a project of this magnitude because of its smaller size and location downstream. By getting a smaller project completed first, the other city officials believe it’s a good sign for future dam-removal projects in Campbell and Struthers.
“You’ve got to crawl before you can walk,” said VanSuch, who, along with Stocker, is hoping for future grants for their respective cities’ dams.
Though the Ohio EPA still has to review the application and complete an environmental assessment before the grant can be awarded officially to Lowellville in the fall, there is a healthy dose of optimism.
A spokesperson with the Ohio EPA said the amount of support it has received, including letters from Campbell, Struthers and Lowellville, during the grant’s comment period was “unprecedented.”
In a letter from the Ohio EPA Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance, the EPA said it “sincerely appreciates the level of interest in the Lowellville Dam Water Resurface Restoration Sponsor Program and the enthusiasm for improving the water quality in the Mahoning River. We look forward to working with the village on their WRRSP project in the upcoming year.”
Mayor James Iudiciani said the village already is hashing out a plan with MS Consultants, an engineering firm based in Youngstown, to remove the dam and sediment along a 2.3-mile stretch of embankment.
The dams are an artifact of the steel mills and other industrial facilities that used to line portions of the Mahoning 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.
Iudiciani said cleaning up years of industrial relics and remnants won’t happen overnight, but the community is committed to the Mahoning River and its future.
“I think when the state sees that the whole area is behind us, they’re going to know how important this is to us,” he said. “But I’m not going to celebrate until the check is in the mail.”