City, University Celebrate Restoration of Olentangy River

For immediate release
September 4, 2014

City, University Celebrate Restoration of Olentangy River
Face of Project Will Continue to Evolve

Arriving via canoe, Mayor Michael B. Coleman joined City Councilmember Zach Klein and partners in the Olentangy River Restoration Project at the site of the former Fifth Avenue dam to celebrate completion of the project.

5th Ave Dam Event 9-2014

“This project is a prime example of our commitment to provide responsible stewardship of our natural resources,” Mayor Coleman said. “The dam that once stood behind me was a safety risk as well as an obstacle. It prevented the river from flowing naturally, impacting the Olentangy’s water quality – something we changed with the help of our partners at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, The Ohio State University, and Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed.”  

Removal of the dam was followed by re-engineering the river channel, the addition of wetland areas to slow and filter the flow of stormwater, shoreline restoration, and finally the planting of native species to reestablish a more natural habitat and ecosystem along the Olentangy between the area north of the OSU campus and Downtown. 

“The removal of the Fifth Avenue Dam and the re-engineering of the Olentangy River will create an environmentally-friendly corridor that preserves the health and vitality of the waterway for generations to come,” said Councilmember Zach Klein, chair of the Public Utilities Committee. “The completion of this project marks another milestone in the implementation of the Columbus Downtown Strategic Plan, which calls for more and better recreational opportunities for area residents and visitors.”

Major financial commitments from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ($3.6 million) and The Ohio State University ($2 million), along with crucial volunteer participation from the group Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW) allowed the Columbus Department of Public Utilities to first remove the lowhead dam then restore the natural flow of the Olentangy River through the university area. 

“Ohio EPA is appreciative of the contributions of a number of public and private organizations who made this project a success. We value our partnerships with the city of Columbus, The Ohio State University, Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed and Battelle Memorial Institute and commend their tireless work to improve the environment,” said Ohio EPA Assistant Director Laura Factor.

Removal of the lowhead dam, originally built in the 1930s to provide water for the university power plant, facilitated the remainder of the $6.9 million restoration project. In the coming years the appearance of the project will evolve as the reestablished native grasses and trees continue to grow and strengthen the shoreline.

“The completion of the river restoration project highlights an important step in implementing the university’s long-range vision,” said Mary Lynn Readey, Ohio State University Associate Vice President for Facilities Operations and Development. “This long-term enhancement of the river corridor will benefit the university and surrounding communities by providing a space for research and unique academic endeavors to flourish.”

The group FLOW contributed significant volunteer hours to several important initiatives, including: removal and relocation of native mussels from within the project area, coordinating cleanup events to remove debris from the river bed, and creating three permanent, interpretive signs along the project corridor showing before and after images while describing the environmental benefits.

While the project is complete, a contract will be maintained with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services through next June. The agency will periodically maintain the orange exclusion fencing along the project corridor and occasionally discourage gatherings of Canada geese, both in an effort to further establish the new plantings in the area.

Removal of the Fifth Avenue Dam was identified in the 2002 and 2004 consent decrees signed by the City of Columbus and the Ohio EPA