Shaker Heights City Council Votes To Support Dam Removal At Horseshoe Lake

Doan Brook sign
NEORD's proposal would remove the dam at Horseshoe Lake and restore the region to Doan Brook stream and watershed. [Annie Wu/ Ideastream Public Media]

The Shaker Heights City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution Monday night that supports a proposal by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to pay $28 million to remove the dam at Horseshoe Lake, restore the natural Doan Brook habitat, and replace the dam at Lower Lake.

Before the vote, residents weighed in on the issue, most virtually. Some supported the dam removal at Horseshoe Lake as environmentally responsible and in keeping with what environmental scientists recommend, while a majority opposed the measure, citing the historic and aesthetic value of Horseshoe Lake. Still, most on City Council argued that the Class 1 dam is failing and could present a threat to public safety.  Members also noted that paying to repair and maintain the failing dam would be far too costly.

Shaker Heights Mayor Daivd Weiss said the sewer district's recommendations were the result of a three-year, $10 million study to develop a stormwater master plan for the region.  He called it a thorough public process that included input from residents.

“There is no question that Horseshoe Lake Dam is in active failure and beyond its useful life. This poses a very real threat to life safety, and it's incumbent upon us to act quickly so that life and safety are protected both in Shaker and downstream,” Weiss said. "I'm often asked what keeps me up at night, and this has moved to the top of the list.”

Councilmember Nancy Moore said “we all love the beauty of Horseshoe Lake,” but she voted to support the resolution based on safety and the environment. 

“We have a person on our staff called the dam-tender. And after every rainfall, it is his responsibility to go out and inspect the dams. We are so concerned that there may be, given the current active state of failure, a catastrophic weather event that will create a breach in the dam," Moore said.

Only Councilmember Anne Williams voted against the resolution, arguing that a vote wasn't needed immediately. Several of the residents who spoke suggested council table the measure to allow more time to look at alternatives and allow for more public discussion.

About two dozen Shaker Heights residents spoke on the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting.  Most argued against a resolution supporting the sewer district's plan to remove the dam and lake. 

Many, like resident George White, argued that Horseshoe Lake should be saved because of its historic value and importance to the community.

“We know the value of these lakes to provide a habitat for humans, animals, birds, fish and amphibians. Nationally, their value was recognized in 1984, when the lakes were included in the Shaker Village Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places,” White said. “But what we might value most is the way the Shaker Lakes make our community a greater place for all of us to thrive and live.”

Rabbi Rachel Davidson was among several residents who spoke in favor of removing the dam and lake, arguing that money would be better spent supporting the Shaker Heights community in other ways.

“I believe that spending millions of dollars, forcing our natural environment to conform to a certain shape, which will then ultimately flood large parts of our city, is a waste of resources and is the kind of thinking that has led us into the climate crisis we're in today, where we believe that we can force our natural environment to do things according to our whims,” she said.

Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, CEO of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, gave a presentation at the start of the meeting and said if there is a 100-year storm, the flooding potential of Horseshoe Lake and dam would pose a “public health and safety issue of the highest level.”

“What it looks like from Shaker Heights' and Cleveland Heights’ emergency action plan is 16 feet of water at Lee Road in two minutes. What we're talking about is a catastrophic breach of Horseshoe Lake Dam that continues down into University Circle, where there is flooding at Adelbert and East 107th in 30 minutes.  So you have buildings flooded at Case (Western Reserve University) in 30 minutes,” Dreyfuss-Wells said. 

Shaker Heights shares the lease on the parkland with Cleveland Heights.  Also facing public outcry, the Cleveland Heights City Council recently voted to get a “second opinion” about whether to remove the dam.

Ideastream Public Media Reporter Taylor Haggerty contributed to this report.

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