As 5th Avenue Dam Comes Down, Part Of The Olentangy Is Restored

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The 5th Avenue dam on the Olentangy River being demolished. The dam was built in 1935.(Photo: Sam Hendren / WOSU)
The 5th Avenue dam on the Olentangy River being demolished. The dam was built in 1935.(Photo: Sam Hendren / WOSU)

Restoration of the Olentangy River in the vicinity of Ohio State University is now underway after many years of planning. Work on the $7 million project began August 29th with the start of demolition of the 5th Avenue dam.

Two giant Caterpillar machines sit on concrete rubble and batter the 77-year-old dam that stretches across the Olentangy. Bystanders watch the dam disappear bit by bit.

“Well we have some heavy equipment here removing the 5th Avenue Dam on the Olentangy River. They’re sort of making a big notch in it and lowering the water level,” says Anthony Sasson.

Anthony Sasson represents the Nature Conservancy in Ohio. He says removal of the dam will help restore a natural ecosystem to the Olentangy.

“What we’re going to see is a huge improvement in habitat quality,” Sasson says. “You’re going to see fish moving upstream that didn’t occupy this area before. It will be an improvement in fish diversity. People will actually have access to the river. Water quality is going to improve; temperatures are going to go down because you don’t have this big pool up here. So all around you’re going to see improvements both for wildlife and for people,” Sasson says.

The project is being paid for by the city of Columbus, the Ohio EPA and Ohio State University. George Zonders, a spokesman for the city, says that once water levels drop, a more natural Olentangy will begin to emerge – with a little assistance.

“We’re going to be adding some natural pools and riffles to mimic the natural areas of the river both upstream and downstream,” Zonders says. “We’re going to be replanting with native species and encouraging some wetlands so that area can act as a buffer to prevent pollutants from flowing into the river.”

Removal of the dam had the backing of William Mitsch, head of Ohio State University’s Olentangy River Wetland Research Park.

“I came down to see the progress of this thing. I was here on the 29th of August when they first started and that was a memorial day for me. And I just came to see what progress they’ve made since then,” Mitsch says.

The wetlands research center recently released a scientific report that documents the river as it’s been for decades. The report also predicts positive changes will begin to occur once the dam is gone.

“I’m looking forward to this system repairing itself and this has been a longtime dream of ours. So it’s a personal dream for me, too. I like to see this dam coming out,” Mitsch says.

While the dam’s removal will be completed in a matter of days, completion of the entire project won’t occur for several years.

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