State, local officials take to Mahoning to highlight benefits of dam removal
By Jordyn Grzelewski
Local and state officials who paddled the Mahoning River hope to make that opportunity more widely available in the Mahoning Valley in the next few years.
Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, in partnership with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and Western Reserve Port Authority, hosted an event Friday to highlight plans to remove the river’s dams.
Removing the dams would provide many benefits to the community, officials said.
“It’ll be a free-flowing river, making it a recreational river,” said Jim Kinnick, Eastgate executive director. “Once you open up a river and it cleans itself, you hope to get economic development.”
“For us, it’s really important to improve water quality,” said Craig Butler, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency director. “We’re happy to be part of this effort.”
Similar projects have taken place on the Cuyahoga River in recent years.
Officials outlined a several-year process in which communities, coordinated by Eastgate, will apply for funding from OEPA to have their dams removed, for a cost of about $20 million. The dams that are targeted for removal are located between Lowellville in Mahoning County and Leavittsburg in Trumbull County.
One in Lowellville will be removed this fall, funding is lined up to do the same in Struthers, and three projects in Youngstown have partial funding, Kinnick said.
The group, which included state legislators, business leaders, local mayors, Butler and Jim Zehringer, Ohio Department of Natural Resources director, visited some of the dam sites Friday.
Warren Mayor Doug Franklin highlighted development along the riverfront there, such as plans for a downtown district and an amphitheater near the water that already draws thousands of people per week for live entertainment.
Edward Haller, director of water pollution control for the city, said his department has been working to improve water quality, but the dam removal will be a significant component of that.
“The chemistry is there. If we remove the dams, we get the biology to match, and we’re going to have a resource we’re going to be able to enjoy with the rest of the region,” he said.
The group also visited a removal site near the B&O station in Youngstown, where they set off for a canoe excursion.
Youngstown also has plans to develop the riverfront. Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said a project to build an amphitheater behind the Covelli Centre is moving forward.
To remove the dams, Eastgate will coordinate applications for OEPA’s competitive grants. Butler said it could help that local communities have come together to work on dam removal, rather than competing with one another for funding.
Although it will be several years before the process is complete, officials said as each dam is removed, a new segment of the river will open for recreation.