Using the words “city-changing” and “transformational,” Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman pledged $18 million in city money today toward removing the Main Street Dam and developing 33 acres of new parkland along the Scioto River Downtown.
He challenged the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. to get the $35.5 million project done by the end of 2015. The development group would be responsible for raising the remainder of the money.
As The Dispatch reported on Thursday, a study commissioned by the city and the CDDC said that it was feasible to remake 1.2 miles of the Scioto from its confluence with the Olentangy River to Main Street by removing the low-head dam at Main Street. The project would narrow the river to about half its width, speed the flow of water and leave room for natural habitat, bike paths and other park amenities.
“We are going to change our city’s future by changing the course of the Scioto River,” Coleman said at a news conference to announce the project today.
CDDC President Guy Worley said today that the development group would contribute $2 million toward the project and that Battelle and the Columbus Foundation had already pledged a half-million dollars each.
“We’ll be out raising funds from other sources as well,” Worley said.
Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady said the county has been approached for $2 million over the next four years, but that commissioners have not yet decided whether to participate.
Worley said the CDDC also will apply for state and federal grants for clean rivers. Having $21 million already pledged toward the project should help, he said. The directors of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources were both on hand today to say they support the project, but they did not pledge state money.
“We are looking forward to being a partner in this project any way we can,” said ODNR Director James Zehringer. Removing low-head dams improves water quality and helps fish and mussels to thrive, he said.
Coleman rattled off a stream of adjectives to describe the dammed river Downtown today: “ Smelly, dirty, unusable, shallow, muddy, stagnant ...” With this project, he said, “We’re going to invite the world down to a river they can use.”
Raising money and designing the project would take place through 2014, when the dam would be removed. After that, the banks from Main Street to the confluence would be remade, partly using the sediment dredged from the undammed river, Worley said, with a goal of completing the work by the end of 2015.
“This is fast-tracking,” Worley said. “Normally, this would be many years in the making.”
Coleman acknowledged it’s a short time frame: “It’s an aggressive goal.”
Alex Silbajoris, chairman of the Friends of the Scioto River, said it’s a goal his group supports. In 1929, when the dam was completed, he said, it was intended to create a mirrored pool for Downtown. Instead it’s stagnant, muddy and smelly.
“There have been so many recent improvements around the Scioto,” he said, pointing to the Scioto Audubon Park and the Scioto Mile. “But they don’t do anything with the river itself.”
To get an idea what the Scioto could look like Downtown, he said, take a look at the river south of the Greenlawn Dam or just south of the Griggs Dam. Those areas, he said, show the river in a more natural state, changing with the weather.
“It won’t be uniform,” he said. “There will be days of high and low water.”