Dams, Barriers and Barristers on the Cuyahoga River

Dams, Barriers and Barristers on the Cuyahoga River

By Elaine Marsh, Friends of the Crooked River

Like the crooked Cuyahoga River that the project threatens, the hydro-electric proposal in Gorge Metro Park in Summit County, Ohio has been through some twists and turns in the last few months.

This proposal seeks to seize the use of a public park for private profit against the will of park managers, dozens of agencies and organizations and scores of individuals. It will destroy public land, degrade water quality in the Cuyahoga River and diminish the recreational and aesthetic experience for the 140,000 citizens who use the park each year. This “revitalization” of a hydro operation, which ceased in 1958, will produce electricity for about 1,000 homes. If a license is granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it will perpetuate, for fifty years, one of the most significant impediments to water quality on the Cuyahoga River, the dam, itself. (See Volume 13, Issue 5, Grassroots Update for more information.)

As part of its Integrated Licensing Process, the FERC requires the applicant to hold “stakeholder negotiations” to determine the appropriate study plan protocol. The applicant sponsored five days of such “discussions.” In addition to Friends of the Crooked River, Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, American Whitewater, Friends of Metro Parks, Ohio EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service joined the applicant in debating what studies should be required to determine the public cost/benefit in this project. And while the lively and usually cordial discussions warmed the early winter, it wasn’t clear that there was any stakeholder interest in the results of the stakeholder process.

Somehow, the fact that this project is in a public park and opposed by park management, a duly authorized political subdivision of a sovereign state, does not seem to impact FERC’s decision-making in any significant way. FERC favored the applicant over the land-owner, the National Park Service, Ohio EPA and local interest groups in the study-plan determination. FERC denied all but minor alterations suggested by these agencies and organizations. And the applicant cited their time and their cost as reasons for refusal of the studies requested by stakeholders. And they did so while declaring their intention to fully cooperate with park officials.

On May 1, 2006 Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, asserted its rights. Park Commissioners declared their belief that Ohio Edison’s easement had been abandoned. (A lease of this easement was the vehicle used by the applicant to gain standing on the property.) Days before the equipment was scheduled to enter the park, Metro Parks blocked access to the public property. On July 24, 2006 the applicant filed suit in federal district court, in order to obtain a temporary restraining order to gain access to the land. Currently, we are awaiting a decision of that court. Stay tuned. This project has a long way to go before the public and park managers will ultimately prevail. Interestingly, the applicant has offered to abandon its quest in exchange for $5 million. Imagine! The public paying a private company millions of dollars to retain the use of its own park.

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For more information: Elaine Marsh, Friends of Crooked River 2390 Kensington Rd., Akron, OH 44333 PH: 330.657.2055 • E-mail: ohgreenway@aol.com

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