Challenged with environmental concerns, MWH Constructors and the selected construction team has successfully removed the Ballville Dam in Fremont, Ohio, and is reestablishing the Sandusky River’s natural path.
“By removing this dam, we are restoring this river to its natural condition,” says Tucker Fredericksen, City Engineer for the City of Fremont, about an hour south of Toledo. “The various fish species, mussels and vegetation will return to their natural state. We will open miles of habitat for fish species.”
Members of the local community are excited about the dam coming down, reports Kurt Koepf, Project Manager with MWH Constructors, of Broomfield, Colorado, serving as the construction manager at risk on the project.To ensure site safety and to accommodate public interest, the company built a temporary observation area for people to watch as construction professionals removed the dam.
“We had a lot of people coming every day,” Koepf recalls.
Dam History and Decision to Remove
Fremont Power and Light Co. constructed the 407-foot-long, 34-foot-high dam between 1911 and 1913 for hydroelectric power generation, but when it failed to produce enough electricity, the city purchased the dam in the late 1950s and converted the dam and impoundment to supply raw water to the City’s Water Treatment Plant.
“Over the years, there became issues with water quality in the Sandusky River, with suspended solids and nitrates,” Fredericksen says.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) required the city to improve the water quality of its raw water supply. To comply with the OEPA, the city built an above-ground reservoir in 2013 and no longer needed the dam and improundment.
Additionally, the city and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Dam Safety Division performed inspections of the dam during the last 20 years. It showed significant deterioration and safety issues. ODNR issued the city violation citations, which gave the city options to bring it up to current standards or tear the dam down. After analyzing both alternatives, the city decided to remove the structure, which is anticipated to cost about $7 million, versus the estimated cost of approximately $26 million to repair and bring it up to current dam safety standards.
“The cost to repair and update the dam was a whole lot more than to demolish the dam,” Fredericksen says. “One of the things we had to look at and consider were the environmental impacts caused by removal of the dam.”
Planning and Engineering
Fredericksen considered the planning, which began in 2011, a major component of the project. Stantec of Cincinnati, Ohio, provided engineering services.
“Scott Peyton and his staff at Stantec Engineering did an excellent job planning the project,” Koepf says. “They had a clear vision of what was going to happen after the demolition; a team of engineers led by Scott and Project Manager Derek Dalton visited the site to give direction on the bank restoration.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service underwrote a $2 million grant for the removal and the OEPA provided $5.8 million.
The city was required to obtain a 404 permit from the U.S. Corps of Engineers and a 401 and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the OEPA for this project. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued an Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for this project.
In 2017, the Sierra Club of Ohio stopped pursuing a federal lawsuit it had entered into against the city and USFWS, trying to stop removal of the dam, due to concerns about negative effects to the environment related to sediment in the impoundment area. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 permit, 500,000 to 700,000 cubic yards of impounded sediment may be released as part of the dam removal and river restoration processes, which the project will experience. As part of the 404 permitting process, extensive testing of the sediment was performed in the impoundment, the downstream area of the river and the Sandusky Bay. This testing showed the sediment above the dam in the impoundment was the same as the sediment downstream and in the bay, so its release would not cause negative impacts, Fredericksen explains.
The City Council supported removal, and Fremont voters had passed a referendum supporting removal.
MWH Constructors released a request for qualifications to demolish the dam and received six responses, later narrowed to three.
“We picked the successful bidder based on price and approach,” Koepf says. “We were able to pick from some of the best contractors in the area. It saved us money and time.”
The successful bidder was Great Lakes Construction of Hinckley, Ohio.
“Great Lakes Construction did a great job,” Koepf adds.
It is expected the dam removal will improve water quality and river ecology and offer opportunities for recreational activities.
The Sandusky River flow was not altered, because water flowed over the dam. The Ballville Dam had created an impoundment area. Its influence reached a couple miles upstream. During high flows, the upstream areas would experience flooding at times. Removing the dam and its’ impoundment will significantly reduce the flooding potential of this area, Fredericksen says.
Ice control was an issue for this project as well. The dam had served a function to prevent ice from flowing downstream, Fredericksen adds. The Army Corps of Engineers required the city to install ice control structures – a series of 15 concrete pillars across the river just downstream of the dam location to create an ice jamming feature to mitigate the function of the removed dam.
MWH Constructors divided the project into three phases, planning around fish spawning season. During the first, crews installed the ice control structures in fall of 2016.
In the fall of 2017, crews cut a notch in the south end of the dam, creating a 10-foot to 20-foot opening to release the impoundment and help the river take a natural course. Many items were found in the river after the notching, including a truck and a pistol.
Beginning July 2, 2018, crews from Great Lakes Construction were able to access the river and begin demolishing the dam, working south to north, this summer. They used track hoes, modified to go into the water, with mounted jackhammers, and completed the work in August.
Great Lakesadded vegetable oil rather than hydraulic fluid into the equipment to protect the water from the risk of spills into the river.
MWH Constructors processed the concrete on site and placed it in the scour holes created over the years at the base of the dam and as fill along the riverbanks. The companyhas began restoration of the riverbank, with permanent seeding and tree and wetland planting, both at the dam site and on 52 acres upstream.
Fredericksen adds that “the city has been pleased with how the project has gone, accomplishing the removal on a tight schedule.”
The city and MWH Constructorsexpect the project to be completed by the end of the year.
“The overall project is good for the environment,” Fredericksen says. “It will open up opportunities for fishing in the river and kayaking and enjoyment of the river.”
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