New Controversy on the Cuyahoga River

New Controversy on the Cuyahoga River

By Elaine Marsh

The Cuyahoga River, the infamous burning river, is the center of another controversy with far flung implications for the Clean Water Act. The 100 mile river falls 700 feet from its source to Lake Erie at its mouth. Thirty percent of that drop,over 200 feet,occurs in a two mile stretch through the City of Cuyahoga Falls, creating a series of spectacular cascades and rapids.

Since the mid 1800’s, the power of the Upper Falls was captured in a series of dams, used for mills, turbine power and cooling water pools. At the same time, the High Bridge Glens and Caves resort, which occupied the Great Gorge and Lower Falls, was the region’s greatest tourist attraction.

By the turn of the century, deteriorating water quality was impacting the resort’s business. Property changed hands. Northern Power and Light Company purchased land to build a dam and power house for hydroelectricity output at the site of the “Great Falls”. During the 1913 construction, concerns about the river’s hydro-generation capacity added a coal-fired power plant to the design to guarantee electrical output from the site. In 1958, the owners of the dam, then Ohio Edison, abandoned the site as a hydro electric source, due to unpredictable water flow and low efficiency. Since that time, several entities have investigated reestablishing hydroelectric operations at the site. All schemes were abandoned until 2003 when Advanced Hydro Solutions began the application process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to obtain a license on the dam that would last for fifty years.

This proposal has raised objections from around the watershed. Nearly 400 people attended a FERC public meeting in July 2004. Seven governmental entities opposed the project. Eighteen nongovernmental organizations opposed the project. Of the 87 speakers, not one supported the project.

The project site is in the middle of Gorge Metro Park. The Park District opposes the project on the grounds that it will have serious environmental, aesthetic and recreational impacts on park lands and visitors and that it produces very little power. The applicant claims that 2,000 households will be served. There are 235,136 dwelling units in Summit County. Over 140,000 residents use the park each year. Despite the Park District’s opposition, the applicant was able to gain standing as they were granted an easement from First Energy, current owner of the dam, who claims easement rights in the park.

We believe that this project is headed in the wrong direction. Since the Clean Water Act, public treatment works and private companies have spent over a billion dollars cleaning up the Cuyahoga. The elimination of sewer overflows will cost another billion dollars. Dams and their negative effects on the attainment of aquatic life standards have focused Ohio EPA attention on the removal and modification of non-functioning Cuyahoga dams. In the last five years, over 7 million public and private dollars have been invested in removing and modifying two dams along the river. Three others are being studied for removal.

If a license is granted by FERC, it will perpetuate, for fifty years, one of the most significant impediments to water quality on the Cuyahoga River, the dam, itself. Water quality experts, municipalities, and citizens all feel strongly based on the Preliminary Application Document forwarded by Advanced Hydro Solutions will have serious impact to water quality on the Cuyahoga and jeopardizes all future efforts to revitalize the river.

The dewatering of over 800 feet of the River will seriously compound combined sewer overflow pollution causing increased threats to aquatic and human populations. The actual construction of the project will accelerate soil erosion and sedimentation into the River. The minuscule power production, and the loss of public benefit to a for profit company operating on our public lands is untenable to almost all in our region, except the project applicant.

Friends of the Crooked River is partnering with other organizations and agencies in opposing the FERC application. We believe that removing the dam and Freeing the Great Falls would provide untold economic benefits as a tourist attraction and as a destination for advanced white water paddlers. For more information, go to Or contact

For more information:
Elaine Marsh, Friends of the Crooked River
2390 Kensington Rd, Akron, OH 44333
(330) 657-2055 •



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