RiverReach Construction: The Art of Historical And Environmental Restoration


While the Sheraton Mill and LeFever Powerhouse dams once provided power for industrial operations, by the 21st century they had long outlived their usefulness and compromised water quality in the Cuyahoga River. When the Ohio EPA and the City of Cuyahoga Falls decided to demolish the dams, the RiverWorks consortium, consisting of three separate companies and disciplines—EnviroScience, GPD Engineering Group and RiverReach Construction—won the contract for the design-build project.

The consortium spent nearly a year planning the project, which came with a variety of challenges. The dams were built 100 years ago, and little was known about their design. “We had photos of when the dams were under construction, but no plans for them. We didn’t know what kind of steel was involved, or how much,” noted Shannon Carneal, project manager and cofounder of RiverReach Construction, a river and wetlands restoration specialist and consortium member. “We were fairly certain they were hollow, but we didn’t know how hollow.”

Another challenge was access. The Sheraton Mill Dam, about 11 feet tall and some 50 feet wide, was the most difficult to reach, explained Greg Guello, RiverReach’s construction manager and cofounder. Guello devised a plan to use a modular barge, which was brought down a steep embankment and assembled on the river. From the barge, Operator Shannon Swaino chipped away at the dam with a small Komatsu excavator to release the water behind it. 

Once the water level in the dam pool was low enough, RiverReach brought in equipment behind the dam to complete the demolition. Dewatering took about two days, and complete removal of the dam took another two weeks.

The LeFever Powerhouse Dam was larger, 13 feet tall and 80 to 100 feet across, but better access made the job easier. “We had access from the downstream side, so we tracked in a Komatsu PC360LC-10 and broke it away,” Guello said. Dewatering took about a day, and demolition took another two weeks. 

RiverReach relied on Columbus Equipment Company for help in selecting the best equipment for the jobs. They chose a PC88 for use on the barge, and a PC360 for the rest of the demolition. “(Sales rep) Tim Kresowaty was very helpful in getting us the right equipment,” Guello said. “We do have an excavator set up with a hammer, but it was too big for the barge work and too small to use on the LeFever Dam, so it was smarter to rent.”

Operator Shannon Swaino said the equipment worked flawlessly. “It was a little different using the PC88, since I was not on flat ground and it was moving with me. It was a wonderful piece of equipment. We were in a tight situation and the barge couldn’t move much, but with the reach and versatility of the PC88 I was able to swing the boom and get in position.”

“The PC360 totally annihilated everything,” Swaino added. “It was a monster. We nicknamed it The Eliminator.”

Both excavators were equipped with Atlas Copco hydraulic hammers outfitted with underwater kits installed by Columbus Equipment’s Richfield branch. The PC88 was coupled with an SB552, and the PC360 with an HB3100.

“This was the first time we’d used Atlas Copco hammers. They were very powerful and performed well,” Guello said. “They did everything Columbus Equipment and Atlas Copco said they’d do. It was very nice having Columbus Equipment’s expertise to set these up with the underwater kits. If it was not done right we would have ruined the hammer. An Atlas Copco rep came out the day we started and was available throughout the project.”

The dams were connected to historic powerhouses—one houses an upscale restaurant—that had to remain undamaged, he noted. “We had equipment measuring the vibrations at the adjacent structures and we didn’t get any excessive vibrations with the Atlas Copco hammers.”

Around Cuyahoga Falls, the demolition was a big event. Hundreds of people came to the river bank to watch, and a live webcam feed streamed the work over the city’s website. The Ohio EPA had advocated demolition of the two dams for more than a decade to improve water quality in the lower Cuyahoga, said Bill Zawiski, environmental supervisor in the agency’s division of surface water. The project qualified for a grant of close to $1 million from Ohio EPA.

“In Ohio, we measure water quality by chemistry and biology,” Zawiski said. “We know dam pools can be devoid of oxygen at their lower levels, which harms overall water quality. Removing a dam allows the river to recover.” Recovery time varies, but some pools recover in as little as six months, while others take a couple years. 

Cuyahoga Falls expects the restored river will provide enhanced recreational and tourism opportunities, Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart explained. “While the environmental benefits, including improved water quality and greater viability of the waterway, were at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the fact the City of Cuyahoga Falls can look forward to a vibrant riverfront environment for generations to come is also gratifying.”

Carneal and Guello have been friends since childhood and business partners for two decades. “Our projects are typically funded by grants or mitigation dollars available to reduce an impact from someone else or to make sure we’re keeping the natural realm pristine,” Carneal said. 

RiverReach has been a Columbus Equipment customer for six years and relies heavily on Komatsu equipment. “We trust Columbus Equipment. They’ve always been very fair with us. In fact, they treat us so well, I rarely shop things hard. Tim has done a good job helping us grow by providing the equipment we need,” Carneal said.

“Pretty much every piece of equipment we have is Komatsu,” Guello added. “We try to stick with it because it’s dependable and the service is good. The rent-to-own program really helps us make the purchase if we’re going to use a piece quite a bit.”

“I love Komatsu equipment,” said Swaino. “I’ve run pretty much everything, but the Komatsu power balance can’t be beat.”

Because of its wetlands specialty, RiverReach operates its equipment in extreme conditions, typically in very deep mud, Guello noted. For that reason, service and maintenance are doubly important to keep the machinery running.

“We do the minor service in-house when we have time, but in season I have Columbus Equipment do everything. A big attaboy to their service department—anytime we have had a breakdown, they have gone well beyond to get a service guy to us as soon as possible, to get the equipment out of harm’s way and to get it working again,” Guello said.

“That means a lot to RiverReach,” added Guello. Just as RiverReach’s restorative expertise has meant a lot to The City of Cuyahoga Falls, and to the river’s ecosystem for generations to come. Returning the Cuyahoga to its original course has been a win-win for all concerned.

Contact your Columbus Equipment Company sales rep today for more information.

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