Shaker Heights Submits Proposal For Controlled Breach Of Horseshoe Lake Dam

A dam assessment sign, yellow tape closes off a path leading to the dam at Horseshoe lake.
Officials warn residents to avoid the closed path leading to the observation deck over the dam. [Annie Wu / Ideastream Public Media]

Shaker Heights is seeking permission to breach the dam at Horseshoe Lake to prevent further complications. The dam is currently in an active state of failure, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The breach would be a temporary fix.

A proposal from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) to fully remove the dam and transition the area from a lake to a stream is under consideration from Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights. But residents have called for the lake to be preserved.

Shaker Heights has lowered the lake’s elevation twice in the past to prevent overflow, according to Assistant Director of Public Works Christian Maier. A third examination of the dam earlier this year found structural issues, he said.

“When we started to do some of our investigations, there was considerable voids under the principal spillway,” Maier said.

The city has submitted a proposal to ODNR to partially breach the dam and redirect waterflow during rain events, Maier said.

“As we have these different rain events, the lake elevation will get as high as where this controlled breach is and will convey that flow down to Doan Brook,” he said. “It will not go through the principal spillway.”

The current proposal from Shaker Heights is separate from the NEORSD proposal, and would serve as a temporary measure to buy more time while discussions continue. It does not solve the issues present in the dam, Maier said, and more work still needs to be done.

“Our objective with this controlled breach is basically to buy us time until it’s determined what the future of Horseshoe Lake is going to be,” Maier said. “It’s a temporary solution so that another project will follow behind it. If the district’s recommendations aren’t implemented, we’ll have to take a pause and think about what next steps will be.”

There’s no deadline for Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights to decide on the proposed dam removal, according to an email to Ideastream Public Media from a NEORSD spokesperson. Currently, a portion of the dam that served as an observation deck is fenced off for public safety.

People are still walking around the area, though, according to Maier. That’s a public safety concern, he said, and he urges residents to stay away and take a different route.

“We have a fence there for a reason. It is not a safe condition,” Maier said. “To see these people walking around there, I don’t think there’s a full understanding of the consequences of when this dam fails, and when it might.”

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