August 20, 2014

Elyria
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The Black River gets a face-lift

ELYRIA — The Black River has been winding through Elyria long before any of us ever stepped foot here, but decades of wear and tear both manmade and natural have not been kind to the river.

Take the portion that runs through Cascade Park, for example.

The riverbank has slowly dropped away, taking trees, rocks and bushes with it into the river. When it floods, water sometimes reaches up to the city nature center and beyond, causing damage.

Last year, erosion along the riverbank even caused the city to close a segment of the park as it looked for a solution to the evergrowing problem. But it seems as if all of that is about to change.

The meandering flow of the Black River through Cascade Park is being restored to a more natural state through an ongoing project that has the potential of bringing river wildlife back to Elyria.

In recent weeks, work has begun on a restoration project on roughly 1,300 feet of the river from the ford downstream toward the segment of the park known as “19 acres.”

The main goal of the project is to improve the riverbed while reducing the sediment load in the river. Nearly $400,000 is being spent on the project, mainly through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant administered through the state.

Aaron Klein, an assistant city engineer, said the best things about the project are the “green” aspects of it. After all, the best way to fix an environmental issue is with an environmentally friendly project, he said.

“We are placing two rock formations called J-hooks into the river,” he said. “They are basically large rocks in the riverbed that are built up and into the form of a ‘J’. The two J-hooks will dissipate the energy of the river so it doesn’t chip away at the bank, and when the water trickles over the rock, it will create wading pools for fish to spawn.”

Klein estimates the river has eroded more than 10 feet of the original riverbank in the last 80 years.

“We were just seeing more and more erosion over the years with entire sections washing away from one year to the next,” he said. “You can never guarantee that you are going to stop erosion, but putting these big rocks in the river will naturally re-stabilize the bank structurally.”

Klein said the city has wanted to do similar projects for several years but was unable to afford the local match that grant programs require. But, this year the city also is doing a major wastewater project on a sewer that goes from West River Road under the Black River to Washington Avenue.

A sewer that travels below the river will be worked on this summer, and the grant administrators allowed the city to use the funding for that project as the local match for the river restoration project so more work could be completed in and around the river.

“Over the years, we have used a lot of funds to analyze the west bank of the river, but this co-funding way is allowing 80 percent of the project to be done,” Klein said.

Parks and Recreation Director Frank Gustoff said the project will change the park aesthetically because of the various plantings and vegetation being used as a natural buffer.

“When it’s done, it will be very nice,” he said.

About 100 trees and 400 shrubs will be planted, including shagbark hickory, red maple, Ohio buckeye, arrowwood viburnum, giant ironweed and gray dogwood.

“The way it is shaping up we should see some nice colors in the fall,” Klein said.

The project started roughly two weeks ago. The Army Corp of Engineers has very specific guidelines about when work in the riverbed can be completed. As such, Klein said contractors have to be out of the riverbed by early spring, and if the plantings are not in the ground by then, that portion of the work will have to wait until fall.

To help with the construction process, the area between the nature center and the Floral Court entrance by “19 acres” has closed until further notice.

The work is being completed by the city, but Lorain County Metro Parks Director Jim Ziemnik said any master plan the park district develops in the future will be designed to capitalize on the work.

“This will create some great opportunities for fishing, drawing people down to the river bank and observing wildlife,” he said. “This is the kind of work that restores what the river was like before runoff from parking lots flooded the river, sped up the erosion, basically channeling the river instead of letting it naturally flow.”

The deal between the city and the Metro Parks should be finalized soon. City leaders earlier this week did their part by voting unanimously to enter into the 50-year agreement, which was actually first thought of more than a year ago because the city realized it did not have the money or expertise to restore the park or complete very many projects like the one it miraculously was able to piece together.

Ziemnik said the park district’s board likely will vote on the matter March 21.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.