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River Run project reaches fundraising goal of $4 million

The next major step in creating the RiverScape River Run attraction in the Great Miami River downtown is getting permits approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, city of Dayton and Miami Conservancy District, organizers say.

Thursday, River Run sponsors announced at RiverScape MetroPark that they have exceeded the fundraising goal of $4 million to build the project, a major priority of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. The key goal is to remove the hazardous Monument Avenue low dam while enhancing river recreation. The dam is not part of the river’s flood control system.

Five Rivers MetroParks Deputy Director Carrie Scarff said that about half the engineering work has been completed. A meeting with the Corps of Engineers will happen soon, she added.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has regulatory authority over the nation’s waterways, evaluating permits for all construction activities in U.S. waters, including wetlands.

Assuming the permitting process stays on schedule, in-river work could begin as soon as the fish spawning season ends in 2013, or sometime in July. Five Rivers MetroParks is managing the project, which has spent more than a decade in community planning and discussions.

The time required for construction should be about a year, but that will depend on river conditions, Scarff said.

At the announcement, a $1 million check from the James Cox Foundation was presented by Julia Wallace, market vice president of Cox Media Group Ohio, officially concluding what was dubbed “The Last Dam Summer Campaign.”

Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell said the project represents a major milestone in redeveloping downtown in recent years that has included building Fifth Third Field for the minor league Dayton Dragons.”This is a game-changer for our city,” he said.

Wallace, who with Mike Ervin, co-chair of the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan, spearheaded fundraising, thanked donors. “It’s been a pleasure to work on this,” she said. “It will help this community’s continuous development. I’m glad Cox can contribute.”

Montgomery County Commissoner Debbie Lieberman was enthusiastic. “This is pretty awesome,” she said. “It’s going to be a great thing.”

Janet Bly, general manager of the Miami Conservancy District, which manages the river dams and flood control levees, said she welcomed the project, referencing the devastating 1913 flood.

“This river has brought triumph and tragedy to the city,” she said. “We’re working to bring to the city the next triumph.”

The Conservancy District will review the FiveRivers MetroPark’s dam removal plan in the near future. If it’s approved, Bly said, ownership of the dam will transfer to FiveRivers and the dam will be removed. The plan will be reviewed with flood protection the highest priority, Bly said.

The project promises to remake the Great Miami River through downtown into a draw for kayakers, canoers and fishing enthusiasts, along with anyone who would come to watch all the activity.

It includes the construction, using large boulders, of two structures spanning the Great Miami upriver from Interstate 75. Each structure will have two passageways with drops: one slower passageway for canoes and a faster white water passage for kayaks.

One structure would be at the RiverScape Metropark, the second at the Downtown YMCA where the River’s Edge amphitheater, with its concrete boat-shaped stage, is located.

Scarff said that planned watercraft entry points will be built will be just north of the Riverside Bridge, at RiverScape park, and at the YMCA. A take-out will be constructed at the confluence of Wolf Creek and the Great Miami.

The bulk of the funding came from the private sector, businesses, foundations and public institutions. But the final fundraising push was opened to the public, raising the last $200,000.

The largest contribution was from the James M. Cox Foundation, which got the ball rolling by issuing a challenge grant of $1 million in July 2011. The foundation is the charitable arm of Cox Enterprises and Cox Media Group Ohio that includes the Dayton Daily News, WHIO TV, WHIO AM/FM, Springfield News-Sun, Hamilton JournalNews and the Middletown Journal, as well as other publications and broadcast outlets in southwest Ohio.

Bly said the Conservancy District is examining plans to either remove or modify other low dams on the Great Miami. Those projects, which could happen in West Carrollton, Hamilton and at the Tait Station dam near UD Arena, are pending.

“We’re hoping we can build on the success of this project and tackle those in the future,” Bly said.

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