Dam may soon be history

LISBON – Village Council has taken the first step that could lead to the eventual demolition of the dam at Willow Grove Park.

By 5-1 vote at Friday’s special meeting, council approved a resolution to support a proposed plan to demolish the dam that spans the Middle Fork of the Little Beaver Creek, with the entire cost paid as part of a “compensatory settlement” with a chemical company responsible for polluting the stream.

The plan was proposed to council 10 days before by representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, who said removing the dam would restore the natural flow to the creek by eliminating the pool of slack water created above the dam, and, in doing so, improve the habitat for fish and other aquatic life.

The same officials were in attendance at Friday’s meeting, and Councilman Joe Morenz, who voted against the resolution, asked them if there was any way they could accomplish the same goal without removing the dam. He suggested redirecting the creek to let if flow around the dam.

William Zawiski, an environmental supervisor with the OEPA, said the dam would still impede the creek’s flow, thereby preventing it from becoming a completely healthy stream. Free-flowing streams are healthier and attract a greater variety of fish associated with cleaner streams, such as smallmouth bass.

“The pool (of slack water) changes the ecology of the stream … When you pile up this water you make a lake, not a stream,” he said. “The carp, on the other hand – which is a good thing -will go away.”

Morenz said he thought they were getting ahead of themselves by agreeing to proceed with the project before holding the required public hearings to learn what the community has to say. Sheila Abraham, a risk management expert with the OEPA, said the resolution they adopted merely gives the agencies permission to proceed with negotiating a “compensatory settlement” with the chemical company to include money for the dam-removal project, and council’s formal commitment comes later once the details are worked out.

The chemical plant was located about 10 miles upstream, contamination from which resulted it in being designated a federal Superfund site in the 1980s. A settlement was reached with the new owners, who spent millions of dollars to clean up the plant property and the section of creek contaminated by chemicals from the plant. Officials said another settlement is in the negotiation stage, and they are hoping to include money for the dam removal.

Zawiski told Morenz they are willing to meet at Willow Grove Park with the public to point out how removing the dam would improve stream quality and ultimately benefit everyone.