The city’s riverfront redevelopment project and a deteriorating dam on the East Fork White River will be the focus of an open house Wednesday.
The session, scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. at Columbus City Hall, will focus on low-head dams and a movement to remove them. The public will have a chance to hear from three experts and can ask questions.
The city has entered into a contract with Core Planning Strategies, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm, for the riverfront revitalization project, said Heather Pope, redevelopment director for the city. A preliminary site investigation found that the city’s low-head dam, constructed around 1903 to provide water supply to the Pump House, is in poor condition.
Still, Pope said the city intends to make the riverfront more attractive, making it a destination for residents and visitors by providing more recreational opportunities.
“We want to take a holistic approach to it,” Pope said. “The thought is to try to clean it up.”
Removal of the dam, however, will likely involve working with various state entities and following their guidelines.
Core Planning Strategies, in its historical and archeological investigation, found that the dam and the bridge are considered eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The firm also said that removing or modifying the dam would have an adverse effect, meaning that it can be done but that officials will have to work with the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ Historic Preservation and Archaeology division — and that mitigation would be required. That could include leaving a portion of the dam in place or having an exhibit interpreting the historical significance of it, the firm said.
In addition, Core Planning Strategies also conducted a hazardous site study concerning the area on the west bank — a former city landfill, which was identified as a Superfund site. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program cleans up contaminated land and responds to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters, according to its website.
The consulting firm said the area continues to be protected by institutional controls in the form of environmental restrictive covenants placed on the property, which dictate what can be done. Limitations include not removing the security fence at the site and not using it for any purposes other than agricultural, recreational, residential, commercial or industrial unless construction is approved in writing by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the EPA.
However, the firm wrote that preliminary conversations with IDEM indicates that the state agency is open to trails or other sorts of recreational construction on the site.
Experts said removing the dam will not only provide environmental and safety benefits, but could provide an economic boost as well. Rich Cogen, executive director of the Ohio River Foundation, said that low-head dams have been constructed across rivers and streams to raise the water level to improve municipal and industrial water supplies, and divert irrigation water, among other uses.
Cogen, who will be one of three speakers during the public meeting, said that while most low-head dams no longer exist, many have fallen into disrepair or have been abandoned and can pose dangerous conditions to the public.
“Increasing numbers of kayakers, canoers, rafters, boaters, anglers and swimmers are often unaware of or underestimate the dangerous forces and currents that these dams or similar hydraulic structures can produce if there are no warning signs, restricted area postings, boat barriers or bypass portages,” Cogen said.
In June 2014, two Franklin teens died and a third was seriously injured while swimming near the base of a low-head dam in the Big Blue River at Edinburgh, according to the report by Core Planning Strategies. Cogen also said that low-head dams also promote the formation of algal blooms, which he described as being detrimental to the survival of other aquatic species.
By removing the low-head dams, it eliminates conditions that enable algal blooms to occur, he said. He also said that dams defeat the natural flow of life in a river.
“Whether it be fish species that need to spread populations throughout a river system to increase survivability or fresh water mussels that depend on migration of fish for completion of their life cycle, removal of these barriers restores the flow of life in a river,” Cogen said.
In August, the Columbus Redevelopment Commission approved up to $53,000 for additional work on the Riverwalk project — $48,500 for a geomorphic study into the implications of removing the low-head dam on the East Fork White River, and up to $5,000 for the research, application and administration of a grant to remove the dam.
Pope said Core Planning Strategies plans to seek requests for proposals to have a design team look at the overall project more closely in what is expected to be a public-private partnership.
What: Riverfront redevelopment project meeting on low-head dams
Where: Columbus City Hall
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday
Potential dangers of low-head dams can be found online at boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/lowhead.htm