Cuyahoga River Restoration: Boston Mills North
The National Park Service (NPS), in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), is evaluating options for restoring habitat and hydrology along the Cuyahoga River at Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP, the Park) in Summit and Cuyahoga Counties, Ohio. The ecology and water quality of the Cuyahoga River have improved substantially over recent decades but remain impaired. These impairments have resulted in designation of the reach of the river that runs through CVNP as an Area of Concern under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Funding for this work will be provided through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).
To address impairments, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) and partners identified the Boston Mills North restoration proposal as an essential project that stretches 3.3 miles along the Cuyahoga River from Boston Mills Road to Vaughn Road. Several beneficial use impairments are present in the area, including degradation of fish populations, degradation of the benthic-invertebrate community, and degradation of fish habitat. The purpose of restoration in the Boston Mills North area is to resolve impairment, improve water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, and remove the Cuyahoga River as an Area of Concern. To inform the development of alternatives, the NPS and USACE analyzed river hydrology, channel morphology, sediment transport, habitat quality, trends in precipitation, and flooding.
The fully developed Channel Lengthening and Backwater Wetlands Alternative called for the excavation of six meanders along the reach from the river from Boston to Highland Road. Working in consultation with agency partners and the public, the project team has refined this initial alternative during its development through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) process to account for impacts to historic properties, archaeological sites and an array of natural resources, including wetlands and species habitat. Based on the results of the resource surveys, inter-agency consultation and public engagement, the USACE has identified a preferred alternative that avoids and minimizes involvement with known archaeological sites and other historic properties while still meeting the project purpose and need.
From the beginning, the project team recognized that the channel lengthening and backwater wetland creation alternative is scalable. The three of the northern meanders (Bends #3, #4, and #5) of the six-meander alternative would have direct effects to the Jaite Mill Historic District and two National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)-eligible archaeological sites, including an expansive prehistoric and historic village site that has yielded thousands of artifacts during past professional surveys. To avoid these direct impacts, the USACE downscaled the proposal by focusing on the two upstream meanders: Bend #1 (Riverview Road) and Bend #2 (Stanford Run #1), in addition to the back-channel wetlands, banks modifications, invasive species control and replanting. Bends #1 and #2 avoided known historic properties and work from a design perspective: upstream channel modifications would resolve downstream degradation. Bend # 6 will be retained in the in the preferred alternative in the hope of achieving future funding.
The NPS and USACE will continue to consult with the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Tribes and NHPA Consulting Parties to account for the down-scaled proposals effect to previously unrecorded archaeological resources, if present, through a programmatic agreement that proscribes additional archaeological testing, monitoring and mitigation, if necessary.
As the project was developed through the environmental process in consultation with cooperating agencies, Section 106 consulting parties and the public, the NPS and USACE identified an alternative that was substantially downscaled from the initial proposal. The required the USACE revisit and adjust their Feasibility Study, an agency requirement, and process the study through agency review. Once complete, the Feasibility Study was subject to an USACE Value Engineering analysis, also an agency requirement. As these processes unfolded outside NPS control, the NPS paused the NPS environmental review process to allow the cooperating agency to complete its work. With the conclusion of Value Engineering assessment and finalization of Feasibility Report, the NPS is moving forward with developing the identified preferred alternative through the NEPA and Section 106 processes.
After considering comments from relevant stakeholders obtained through the NEPA process, the USACE intends to complete project plans and specifications and award a contract for restoration work by late spring 2021. Accordingly, construction would begin in late summer 2021 and continue through 2022 with monitoring and adaptive management continuing through subsequent years.
Chris Davis, Plant Ecologist
Acting Chief of Resource Management
Cuyahoga Valley National Park