YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – For most of Youngstown’s history, the Mahoning River was an open sewer used by the steel industry as a place to dump its waste. But these days, the focus of the Mahoning is cleaning it up and using it for recreation.
At Thursday’s Impact Ohio and Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce conference, a panel discussion focused on how to get that done.
The panel discussion at Stambaugh Auditorium began with Kurt Princic, with the Ohio EPA, detailing the water quality of the Mahoning River.
“Back in the ’60s and ’70s, the Mahoning River was as challenged as any river in the country,” he said.
Princic said in 1994, the EPA studied 29 sites on the Mahoning River and found only two of them met EPA water quality standards.
In 2013, the EPA studied 25 sites. Eleven met water quality standards and 12 partially met them.
“That doesn’t sound like the best report card anyone ever got,” Princic said. “You still have 12 of 25 not meeting.”
“Most of the reasons why we weren’t meeting those water quality standards was because of the low-head dams on the river,” Princic said.
Between Warren and Lowellville, there are nine dams along the Mahoning River.
Everyone involved in Thursday’s discussion agreed removing the dams is the first priority.
Jim Kinnick, with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, said it’ll take $30 million and three to five years.
“Again, this is a win-win for everybody and all the communities along there to get that river back to where it should be — a natural, free-flowing state and a clean river.”
Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said he’s working with the Nature Conservancy of Ohio to clean up the river bank through his city.
“In terms of cleaning up your shoreline and removing all of the invasive species along the shorelines so that people can actually see the beauty of that natural great resource.”
State Senator Mike Rulli said cleaning up the Mahoning will add to what is already a vibrant downtown Youngstown.
“When I graduated from college in 1990, I had friends from Boston and said, ‘I can’t believe you’re moving here. This is worse than New Jersey.’ No offense to New Jersey. Those same friends come here now and they can’t believe the Renaissance.”
Two steel-related operations along the Mahoning — McDonald Steel and ArcelorMittal — have expressed concerns about removing the dam in Girard and another in Warren. They draw water from the river for use in their plants.
It was stressed Thursday that nothing will be done to harm those plants and alternative ways of getting them water are being studied.
The Village of Lowellville is working to develop its portion of the Mahoning River. In July, Mayor Jim Iudiciani showed us plans for restaurants, stores, condos and apartments to be built along the river.
On Saturday, there will be a public forum at city hall from 10 a.m. to noon on the branding and marketing of Lowellville. The village is encouraging residents, business owners and stakeholders to come and share ideas.
There will be an overview of what’s planned followed by questions and answers.