By EMMALEE C. TORISK
The removal of the First Street dam on the Mahoning River, along with the nearly 20,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment behind it, may begin earlier than anticipated.
“It’s been fast-tracked, and we couldn’t be happier,” said Mayor James Iudiciani Sr. “We’re anxious to get the project going.”
In February, the village of Lowellville was tentatively awarded a $2.4 million Ohio Environmental Protection Agency grant for its river-restoration project.
But before the grant could officially be awarded, the state agency had to review the village’s application and complete an environmental assessment.
The village, too, had preliminary tasks of its own, such as securing easements from about eight property owners along the Mahoning River and determining ownership of the dam, before the project could commence.
What village officials learned from the subsequent title search was that the southern half of the dam is owned by Sharon Slag, a stone-crushing business, and Gennaro Pavers Inc. — both of which are located on the same property, and have the same owners and operators. It appears that no one owns the northern half of the dam, Iudiciani said.
He added that this process, the deadline for which was pushed forward by the Ohio EPA, should be complete within a week, with the dam’s owners likely allowing the village to use the property. No formal agreements have been made yet, though.
Another obstacle recently cleared by the village is its gaining of a sponsor — the city of Canton — for the project.
Per the Ohio EPA’s Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program, Lowellville must recruit a sponsor, specifically a community that had applied to the WRRSP for a loan that would support wastewater-treatment system improvements and also had volunteered to provide assistance for water-resource restoration projects.
This sponsoring community then would receive a reduced interest rate on the total borrowed for both projects, according to the Ohio EPA’s website. Lowellville could be affected by any delays in the sponsor’s project, though.
But if all goes according to plan, the Ohio EPA officially could award the village with the grant as soon as October or November, Iudiciani said, adding that it initially wasn’t expected until December or January.
As a result, removal of the old industrial dam, as well as cleanup of the polluted river, could begin as soon as this coming winter, depending on grant disbursement. It originally was set to start in spring 2014 and conclude in October of that year.
“If the money’s there earlier than we thought, we could start a couple of months earlier,” Iudiciani said. “We’re just excited and hope it comes to fruition here pretty soon. We’re looking forward to seeing it all done.”
When finished, the project — the application for which was rated fourth among those from 15 other communities across the state — will open up several miles of the Mahoning River between Lowellville and Struthers.
The First Street dam, like several others downstream, was built to accumulate large pools of water that would then be pumped into nearby steel mills and other industrial facilities to cool equipment. This water, however, was released back into the Mahoning River without being treated.
In addition to simply cleaning up the river, the project, once finished, also will provide better opportunities for recreation, and already has generated interest from water-sports enthusiasts, such as kayakers and canoeists, said Ronald Rotunno, a village councilman.
And though the Ohio EPA grant can be used only for removal of the dam, as well as removal of contaminated sediment, Rotunno said he’s eagerly anticipating the project’s completion. Then, he said, the village can apply for additional beautification grants, such as ones that would fund the installation of docking stations and boardwalks.
All of this activity would give Lowellville a much-needed economic boost, Rotunno added.
“It’s going to bring people into town,” he said. “This could really help our village out.”
The Ohio EPA is awarding four WRRSP grants that total $10 million this year. According to the Ohio EPA website, the WRRSP was created to counter the loss of ecological function and biological diversity that jeopardizes the health of Ohio’s water resources.