Full steam ahead: Irishtown Bend stabilization project breaks ground

Last Friday, Aug. 25 at the Cleveland Rowing Foundation, city officials and organizations celebrated the beginning of the vital next step in the Irishtown Bend project—the stabilization of the banks of the Cuyahoga River to continue plans for a 23-acre park between West 25th Street and the river and between Columbus Road and the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The project is a joint effort between the Port of Cleveland, Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordination Agency (NOACA), LAND Studio, the City of Cleveland, Ohio City Inc., Lake Carriers Association, and the Cleveland Metroparks.

Named for the Irish immigrants who settled in Cleveland along the banks of the river in the mid-1800s, the Irishtown Bend hillside and retaining walls supporting the soil, trees, and vegetation are now in danger of collapsing into the river and had to be stabilized before the park plans could continue.

“The danger that this hillside could catastrophically collapse into the shipping channel and impact our $4.7 billion maritime shipping economy and 22,000 jobs it supports was and is very real,” said Port of Cleveland president and CEO William Friedman.  

The stabilization project has been years in the making and will take several years to complete. When this massive infrastructure project is finished, the retaining walls along the Cuyahoga River will be reinforced to ensure safe passage for commercial shipping and recreational boating, and the accompanying hillside park developed as part of the stabilization effort will offer some 23 acres of public access for visitors.

In total, the project is anticipated to cost about $100 million. While the need and the timing for this project are crucial to commerce and recreational activities on the river, bringing all the key partners together was years in the making.

Through multi-sourced funding and in-kind support from federal, state, city, and county governments, and the non-profit and business communities, the project is now in the early excavation phase.  

Groundbreaking at the ceremony to kick off work to stabilize Irishtown BendGroundbreaking at the ceremony to kick off work to stabilize Irishtown BendThe first steps include removing the hillside fill dirt to take pressure off the embankment, reviewing and re-routing sewer and power lines, and planning for the construction of over 2,100 linear feet of bulkhead along the riverbank.

The importance of this groundbreaking event was evident, with Ohio senator Sherrod Brown in attendance and providing remarks, along with Cleveland mayor Justin Bibb, Cuyahoga County executive Chris Ronayne, and representatives from NOACA, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), and others.

There are common themes among the partners that will resonate with residents today and well into the future.  As the project takes shape, unused land will become a vibrant park for recreation, and the shipping channel will be reinforced to provide safe passage for tankers and recreational boats.

Officials noted how important the stabilization project is to the overall health and vitality of Northeast Ohio. The big picture draws a map from the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie, throughout the Great Lakes, to the St. Lawrence Seaway, and ports throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Regionally and locally, maritime activity and commerce conducted along the river channel, estimated to total more $4 billion annually and provide 22,000 jobs, means quality employment and a steady tax base.

Irishtown Bend 1926Irishtown Bend 1926The Cuyahoga River—once seen as a barrier to connecting the east and west sides of Cleveland—will have parks, trails, and recreational opportunities that will bring people together from throughout the region, a highlight that was shared throughout the event.

Mayor Bibb cited former Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes in his remarks, noting that Stokes’ championed the environmental efforts in the 1960s to support the health of the river and make it accessible to all Northeast Ohioans—especially those who resided in urban Cleveland, where both the Stokes family and Mayor Bibb grew up.

Following up, Cleveland City Council president Blaine Griffin, pointed to the theme of “alignment,” and how this project is a reference point for social, economic, and environmental impact and improvement.

“At one time this crooked river divided us,” he said. “Now, with projects such as this, we can go to the river; the river brings us together.”

U.S. Senator Sherrod BrownU.S. Senator Sherrod BrownSenator Brown noted that bipartisan support for funding from the federal government was a key driver in making the Irishtown Bend stabilization project a reality—ensuring long-term, quality jobs and fair wages for employees working in industries impacted by the improvements.

County executive Ronayne pointed out that fresh water is pivotal to our regional well-being, especially as climate change affects supplies of fresh water here and across the country.

Lake Erie’s and the Cuyahoga River’s value as commercial and environmental assets is growing for this region, he said.

“We must embrace the theme, ‘Love the River,’ as our community has grown to ‘Love the Lake,’” he told the crowd, noting that Cleveland’s future as a destination, recreation, and commercial hub depends on how we take care of these resources.

ODOT director Jack Marchbanks called the river part of the total Northern Ohio transportation and supply chain network, and therefore an upgrade to the river extends and improves the quality of transporting goods, services, and travelers to and from the region.

Students from Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School attended the event, serving as reminders that crucial waterway-related education and job training programs already in place. The students receive hands-on maritime experience, including the specific job of collecting debris along the Cuyahoga and Lake Erie coastline near downtown Cleveland.