Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Dam removal key to walleye’s resurgence


The Ballville Dam on the Sandusky River at Fremont has not been shored up or repaired in 40 years, has not been used for hydroelectricity for more than 60, and has been put in the ‘most dangerous’ category.

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The aging, creaking, frankly dangerous Ballville Dam on the Sandusky River at Fremont should be removed for a host of sound reasons, but a determined opposition is using half truths and flatly erroneous contentions to try to sabotage the effort.

Last week a letter to the editor of The Blade demonstrated just this. The writer cherry-picked an Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ report to create the impression that walleye, the ever-prized Lake Erie gamefish, never even bother to swim as far upstream as the dam during spring spawning runs.

It is a flat misrepresentation, an act of adding 2 and 2 to get 22. The statement did not tell you that it selectively was lifted from a report about research involving tagged fish.

Indeed, no tagged fish ever were recovered at or in the tailwaters of the dam during that short project. But that does not mean that walleye do not run all the way to the foot of the dam.

Indeed, they incontrovertibly do, said Mike Wilkerson, fish management supervisor for the ODNR’s Wildlife District 2 at Findlay. So much for a cherry-picked “fact.”

The letter went on to flat out misstate that the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the fish-management arm of the ODNR, never located fish “further upstream than Roger Young Park in the City of Fremont.” Nonsense. Sport fishermen, mind you, are not allowed to fish above the park, toward the dam, during the March and April spawning runs. If fish did not run above the park, why would the state ban angling there during spawning season?

Wilkerson went on to note, though the letter-writer was not clear on the point, that state biologists planted walleye above the dam in an experiment to determine whether spawning-run fish could reproduce in the 22 miles of stream stretching up to Tiffin.

The upriver research on walleye spawning was well publicized and openly documented in the early stages of consideration of finding an alternative source for Fremont drinking water [i.e., build an upground reservoir, like so many other regional communities]. This plan was sought because nitrates in farm-fertilizer runoff [an agronomic failing] pollutes the river at Fremont so often that drinking-water warnings must be issued.

The Sandusky River spawning stock of Lake Erie walleye was decimated when the city convinced an oh-so-willing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build one of their patented, multimillion-dollar, flood-control projects to “save” its downtown heart, which consisted at the times of mostly late 19th-century business storefronts in varying states of disrepair. A number of them since have been razed.

The floodwall and attendant dikes indeed protected the old downtown [while Walmart and the Big Boxes drew commerce out north of town toward the Ohio Turnpike]. But the flood-controls destroyed the principal walleye spawning grounds, which lie in a great lowland oxbow that swept to the east of downtown. Since then the famed Fremont spring walleye run, which used to draw more fishermen and seasonal commerce than the now-vaunted Maumee River run, has fallen to a mere shadow of itself.

But walleye could return in force, in time, if they had access to historic spawning beds that have been denied to them for a century by the Ballville Dam.

The city already has set aside the $8.8 million needed to take down the dam. The dam, which has not been repaired or otherwise shored up in more than 40 years, has been placed in the “most dangerous” classification by the ODNR’s Division of Dam Safety. Which means that if it fails, someone may die.

The dam has not been used for its initial intended purpose, hydroelectric power, for more than 60 years. Restoring it and its innards to hydropower status is a pipe dream.

If the city does not remove the dam it has to surrender the $5 million that the ODNR granted it to do it. And it still would have to raise millions for repair. Fixing the dam and installing a fish bypass, a “ladder,” would cost a whopping $17.5 million.

Spending more on the dam, given that tear-down money is in hand and adds no more expense, should be a sore subject for Fremonters, given the mishandling of the new 100-acre reservoir project. It is built on a rocky sponge [lots of political and legal finger-pointing going on there]. Mishandling the design process has ballooned the reservoir’s cost from $18 million to a current $30 to $32 million [It now has to have a massive liner so it can hold water.]

Claims that keeping the dam would leave the city with a backup water supply doesn’t hold water, given that the pool behind the reservoir has all but silted in with 100 years’ worth of upstream farmland erosion. That back-up water still would be laced with the farm-nitrates pollution that spurred the reservoir alternative in the first place.

So, the dam has got to go. Anything else is vested nonsense. Concerns about harm to bank-side real estate property values are a smokescreen. This lovely river and its valued scenery are not going to go away. Only a slow-moving, muddied pool and an old dam will disappear.

Contact Steve Pollick at: or 419-724-6068.

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