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Pinning hopes on Mahoning River development

Removal of dams trickles along

Staff photo / Renee Fox Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown looks at a map of the Mahoning River and pins features. A plan meant to encourage use and development of the Mahoning River, a Mahoning River Corridor Revitalization plan, is expected to include individualized community plans highlighting river-use opportunities.

Despite a plea to move up the removal of a dam in downtown Warren after the near-drowning of an Austintown woman there in May, the dam near Summit Street on the Mahoning River can’t be removed until 2022, as planned.

A June 15 letter from businessmen Sam Covelli and Anthony Payiavlas, and Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, all board members of The Fund for Warren’s Future, asks the director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to help speed up the process.

Lisa Zitello, 41, remains in a coma after a kayak she was piloting May 3 went over the old Warren waterworks dam, trapping the Austintown woman in the current until bystanders and first responders pulled her from the water.

“Warren’s fire chief has called this dam a ‘drowning machine,’ that has killed three people during his 32-year tenure in the WFD, and has required the rescue of several others,” the letter states.

“We urge you to make the removal of the Summit Street dam the first in the planned series of dam removals along the Mahoning River. This dam is located in the heart of a metropolitan area, and no other on the Mahoning presents such a great threat to public safety,” the letter states.

But because of the time it takes to apply for and secure funding, there is no way to speed up the process, said Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate, the project leader for the removal of the dams.

SOUTH TO NORTH

The plan to remove the dams was developed several years ago. The plan mostly moves from south to north, removing the dams downstream first.

The dam in Lowellville, in Mahoning County, will be removed soon, and the sediment around it is being dredged now, said Joann Esenwein, director of planning for Eastgate.

The removal in Struthers is funded, and the project has moved into the design phase, she said.

“It is beyond paperwork, they have a design build team and I hope to see them in the water this summer,” Esenwein said.

The three dams in Youngstown have been funded and are now in the paperwork stage, which takes about a year, Esenwein said.

It takes about a year to complete the paperwork required, including environmental agreements, before a design team can be put in place. There are two “real” dams in Youngstown; the third is a dam pool made of rock, Esenwein said.

Sediment will be removed and the banks will be restored, she said.

“It is a lot of work to still be done, but it is exciting. We’re getting close,” Esenwein said.

Because of the way the project was set up, the timeline for the removal of the dangerous dam in Warren can’t be moved up. Funding comes from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program. The entire project on the river is expected to cost about $26 million; approximately half of the funding has been secured.

“We are doing all we can to get the process going at an accelerated pace, but it does take time to go through the process,” Kinnick said.

So, the Summit Street dam is slated for a 2022 removal, Kinnick said.

WARNINGS

In the meantime, someone or a group of people hung a sign from the railroad trestle above the river, shortly before the dam, to warn people of the dangers of the low-head dam situated between Packard and Perkins parks. And, the city of Warren has warning signs and a stop sign to put in along the riverbank in Packard Park, warning people that that is the last place to get out of the river before the dam, said Eddie Colbert, Warren’s safety service director.

The signs are more visible, he said.

While the public has been largely supportive of the dam removal project, there is concern that the removal of the dams could negatively impact water levels, particularly in Leavittsburg, where some 1,400 septic systems drain material into the river, after it goes through the septic treatment process.

As a part of a planning project for the dam removal project, a flow study is being conducted that will model the river levels based on several different variables. The study is expected to be ready at the end of July.

REVITALIZATION

The same planning project is working on creating a Mahoning River Corridor Revitalization implementation plan, individualized for the communities along the river.

The plan will identify features the public want to see along the river through surveys and stakeholder interviews. Business owners and associations, civic organizations, educational institutions, homeowners and neighborhood associations, youth organizations, religious institutions, historical societies, recreation and conservation groups are expected to give input in an outreach plan.

The plan is being developed through Eastgate, MS Consultants and NBBJ, an architectural and design firm that has worked on riverfront development projects in Detroit, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, among other areas.

The plan is expected to be completed sometime in summer 2021. Members of the public can visit MyMahoningRiver.com for more information.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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