EPA, Kent residents taking steps to preserve local wildlife

Leslie Schelat

Plants and animals returning to Franklin Mills River Edge Park

A heron perches itself on a rock in the Cuyahoga River in front of the Kent dam. After years of dwindling plant and animal populations there, the wildlife is making a comeback. DAVID RANUCCI | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

More than a year after modifications of the Kent Dam, smallmouth bass, northern pike and varieties of darter fish are repopulating the Cuyahoga River in Kent, sustained in part by the now oxygen-rich water that flows freely through the city.

“The EPA went in and sampled fish shortly after the project was completed,” project coordinator Bob Brown said.

After years of dwindling plant and animal populations in the river, the game fish are back.

These water-dwellers are proof that the modification of the Kent Dam in Franklin Mills River Edge Park, located immediately south of the Main Street Bridge, has been an environmental achievement.

“We consider it an overwhelming success,” said Steve Tuckerman of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Northeast District Office.

“I’ve yet to hear anything detrimental about the project from the environmental side.”

The three tests conducted by the EPA before and after the changes all showed improvement of the river’s habitat. The Index of Biotic Integrity and the Modified Index of Well Being, two measures of fish population, increased to levels above what the EPA considers sufficient The Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index, which evaluates the river’s habitat for fisheries, increased 28.5 points to 79.5 on a scale of one to 90.

Water was diverted around the Kent Dam to stop the stagnant dam pool from diminishing the oxygen content of the river. At the recommendation of the Ohio EPA and a cost of $5 million dollars, a concrete wall to the left of the dam was removed and an artificial re-circulating waterfall was installed.

“Overwhelmingly, there has been a positive feedback,” Brown said.

By working with community members and the historical society, a larger park area was added where the dam pool once sat and more walkways were built for further accessibility. The river became more accessible for recreational purposes and the smell often emitted from the still water became a thing of the past.

“I like it, it looks a lot nicer,” said Patricia Dionne, sophomore applied conflict management major, adding that she is now more likely to go to Franklin Mills River Edge park instead of traveling farther to the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area.

“People are using that park for families and children,” said Sandra Halem, board president of the Kent Historical Society. “There seems to be a lot more people involved.”

Around 1998, the EPA approached the City of Kent about water quality in the Cuyahoga River. The lack oxygen was affecting plant and animal populations.

“The EPA pretty much told us we had to do something (with the dam) or invest money into the water treatment plant,” Brown said.

The plant, at the Water Reclamation Facility on Middleburry Road, pours treated wastewater into the Cuyahoga River. Brown said those changes would have minimal effects on water quality.

However, some community members were still reluctant to change the dam.

“A lot of people were concerned about the history of the dam,” Brown said.

The Kent Dam was originally built in 1836 and was used for hydropower, navigation and industrial water supply. The 15-foot tall structure underwent major repairs from storm damage in 1925, but remained otherwise untouched.

The Kent Historical Society placed the dam on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, securing its place in Kent’s history, and eventually leading to the public dispute about its modification.

“The Erie Depot, the stone arch bridge and the river are at the heart of what we think is important to history,” Haylem said.

In response to community members’ concerns, the city formed the Kent Dam Advisory Committee to help decide how to solve the problem with the river without hurting the historical value of the 160-year-old dam.

“Nineteen people from all walks of society – private citizens to government agencies – had 6 or 8 meetings to discuss alternatives to meeting the EPA goals while preserving as much history as possible,” Brown said. The city also sent a 16-question survey to community members to get their opinions on the project.

“The waterfall was important,” Brown said, and with financial assistance by the EPA, an artificial re-circulating waterfall was added to the plans and runs seasonally from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m., seven days a week. This solution did not make everyone happy, though.

“I miss the waterfall,” Dionne, who grew up in Kent, said. “The artificial one just isn’t the same.”

“There are some people who will never be happy that the waterfall is gone,” Haylem said, but encourages those people to look at the improvement the river has experienced and the history that remains.

The main wall of the dam and parts of the original canal lock were preserved and signs dictating historical highlights of the area line the walkway behind the dam wall where water once flowed. The new waterfall flows over the edge of the old dam.

Funding for the modifications came from the Clean Ohio Fund, the City of Kent and the Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program. The WRRSP allows communities in the state to apply for lower than normal interest loans for improvement projects, which come from the interest that is made off of standard loans.

In turn, the city assists other communities with water-related improvements. The cities of Massillon and Ravenna both used the WRRSP, contributing to the funding of the Kent Dam project.

For more information about EPA standards and the results of the modifications of the Kent Dam, visit www.epa.state.oh.us/dsw.

Contact public affairs reporter Leslie Schelat at [email protected].