Cuyahoga Falls Dams to be Demolished in Summer

Falls Service Director Valerie Wax Carr and representatives of RiverWorks held an informational meeting at Lions Park Lodge recently to talk about the pending removal of two downtown dams. Nearly 200 people attended.

The Mill Dam, behind the Sheraton Suites, will be the first to go. Set-up should begin June 10, with work on the dam scheduled to start June 17. If the weather cooperates, the dam should be gone by July 1, when removal of the LeFever or Powerhouse Dam north of Portage Trail will begin.

Cost of the project is $1 million, fully funded by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.


Three companies are under the RiverWorks umbrella: EnviroScience of Stow, River Reach Construction and GPD Engineering.

Joel Bingham, restoration biologist for EnviroScience, said workers will be using a flat barge, called a spud barge, with a mini track hoe and hammer attachment. Workers will be harnessed to the dam as they work in one-foot sections across the structure to remove the concrete.

The debris will be towed upstream to the powerhouse, where it will be used to protect the structure before the Powerhouse Dam is removed.

Once they are gone, what will be left is a 3- to 4-foot fall near the Mill Dam and a small fall under the Powerhouse Dam. The deepest point in that section of the river will be 3 to 4 feet, Bingham said.

“What it won’t have is 8- to 10-foot waterfalls,” he said.

River banks will be checked for erosion and repaired if needed.

Eventually, there will be an opportunity for river recreation, like whitewater rafting.

As workers remove the dams, the river will cough up much of what has been stuck on the bottom for more than 100 years.

Carr said the city got a sneak peak using sonar and found a big water wheel under the Doodlebug Bridge. She is excited to see what else surfaces.

Anything found in the river will belong to the finder, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency biologist Bill Zawiski said.

Carr isn’t sure.

She said she talked to the Falls Historical Society about making room for artifacts.

“There may be some debate,” she said.

Updates will be given throughout the project period, Carr said.

“One of the most important things about this project is education,” she said. “We want the public to know what’s going on and why it’s going on.”

She has made arrangements with the office at the Watermark to live-stream the work on the Mill Dam behind the Sheraton, and hopes to do the same with the Powerhouse Dam.

Zawiski said dams are removed to improve water quality.

“A dam takes a river and stops it,” he said. “A river wants to move.”

Fish species are a good indication of water quality, he said. As the Cuyahoga River water heals, smallmouth bass and other species that thrive in healthy rivers will replace the carp and largemouth bass that live there now.

It won’t happen overnight, Zawiski said.

“Two hundred years of soot, sediment and gravel have been allowed to gather,” he said. “We’ve given it a good kick in the butt, so it’s going to take time to recover.”