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The Hocking River on March 26, 2023, is a 102-mile-long tributary that comes from the Ohio River in southeastern Ohio. The cities it flows through include Athens, Hocking, Lancaster, Logan, Fairfeild, Nelsonville and Coolville.

City Council initiates Hocking River improvement project

Athens City Council is signing up for a study with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, to improve conditions of the Hocking River. 

The project, outlined in two city ordinances, aims to ensure the river's quality while improving its ecosystem for plants and animals.

USACE has the authority to conduct studies and subsequent projects to mitigate environmental damage in previous flood control areas under Section 1135 of the Water Resources Development Act.

“Back in 1970, we didn’t know how to properly maintain the ecosystem when we were doing these flood control projects,” Service-Safety Director Andy Stone said. “Now we know better, and this is a way to address that.” 

The study costs about $800,000, but the federal government pays an initial contribution of $100,000, Stone said. Out of the $700,000 left, the city and the government split it 50/50. The city will pay about $350,000 over three years. 

Local funding will be taken from the city's stormwater fund, which is included in all residents’ utility bills, Councilmember Alan Swank, D-4th Ward, said. 

The study is a prerequisite for securing federal funding for the Hocking River improvement project, which is estimated to cost $4 million to $5 million, Stone said. Once complete, it will determine a course of action for the city to improve the quality of the Hocking River. 

The designated project area spans from White’s Mill to Richland Avenue of the Hocking River.

Swank said the proposed study promises to improve the ecological habitat for plants and fish.

The city wants to enhance safety at White’s Mill while preserving the dam's historic significance, Stone said. He wants to transform the falls into a recreational area for activities like kayaking.

Annual flooding on Ohio University’s West Green campus was common before 1970, according to an Ohio News article. USACE surveyed the floodplain in the 1940s, but by the late 1960s, flood damages cost the university and Athens over $100,000 annually. 

Swank said the dorms on South Green are raised with catwalks due to the risk of flooding the buildings.

According to a previous Post report, alterations made to the river’s course in the late 1960s aimed to address flooding issues but led to environmental problems such as decreased wildlife, increased sediment and deforestation along the river.

“We can’t restore it to exactly the way it was but to make it more in line with what it was,” Swank said.

Swank said the community’s view of the environment is far different today than it was 55 years ago when the sole purpose was to prevent flooding in Athens.

He said the idea of making the Hocking River suitable for recreational use has existed for over twenty years, with past proposals including installing inflatable dams along the river from former OU president Robert Glidden.

Stone noted plans to install a ramp near the new Athens Fire Department, located at 120 E. Stimson Ave., allowing the department to access the water with emergency watercraft and for people to access the river for tubing and kayaking.

The city’s Environmental Sustainability Commission and the Engineering and Public Works Office will focus on selecting native plants and fish for the area, Swank said.

Stone mentioned plans for an online outreach program that would allow community members to submit surveys and allow the city to share information from the study with the community.

"I just hope people, as this project unwinds and nears completion – and it’ll be a several year process – will appreciate that the river will look much nicer,” Swank said. “It will be much nicer from an environmental standpoint and that when appropriate–when river levels are fine–that people will take advantage of the increased recreational opportunities.”

Stone hopes to complete the project by December 2026.


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