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U.S. awards $9 million for Irishtown Bend stabilization; NOACA commits another $3.5 million

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Monday it had awarded $9 million for stabilization of Irishtown Bend, a hillside that threatens to slide into the Cuyahoga River and disrupt shipping.

The grant came through the department’s INFRA program, or Infrastructure For Rebuilding America, and will go to the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s office issued a news release saying the money would enable installation of roughly 2,600 feet of sheet steel bulkheads along the river’s edge as part of a larger project to prevent a potential landslide into the river.

“I think this is fantastic news,” said Grace Gallucci, NOACA’s executive director.

Once the site of a 19th-century Irish immigrant settlement, Irishtown Bend is largely vacant and covered with weeds and brush. In recent years, the earth has slipped enough to split roads and put kinks in a major sewer line.

Stabilizing the hillside will make possible construction of a 17-acre park with views of the river and the downtown skyline, and regional trails connecting Lake Erie to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and points south on the 101-mile Towpath Trail.

Partners in the combined project last week announced significant progress for the project, for which nearly $19 million in government and charitable grants have been committed and another $4.5 million worth of land donated.

In addition to NOACA, the partners include Cleveland Metroparks, the city of Cleveland, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, West Creek Conservancy, LAND Studio and Ohio City Inc.

“This is a really big day,” Tom McNair, Ohio City’s executive director, said Monday. He said that so many people in Cleveland have campaigned so long and hard for the grant that seeing it awarded was “surreal.”

Gallucci said last week that NOACA, which oversees federal and state spending on transportation infrastructure in the region, expected to hear any day on a $15 million INFRA grant application, the second time it applied under the program for Irishtown Bend funding.

The $9 million awarded Monday was less than NOACA sought, but Gallucci said her agency was confident the rest could be raised. She also said NOACA has committed $3.5 million in local matching funds.

The $12.5 million in funding announced Monday, plus the $19 million already committed, means that some $31.5 million has been earmarked for the project, most of it so far dedicated to stabilizing the hillside. Gallucci said NOACA estimates the cost of stabilization at $36 million.

On Friday, the Port of Cleveland awarded a contract not to exceed $3.3 million to the Cleveland firm of Osborn Engineering to design bulkheads, plus the re-grading of the hillside, and other solutions. That design work is expected to take 18 months.

West Creek Conservancy, which owns most of the 17-acre site for the future park, will co-manage the design project with the port.

Meanwhile, Ohio City Inc. and LAND Studio have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for designing the park, a project that will run concurrently with Osborn’s assignment.

There are no estimates yet for the cost of the park or the timing of its construction, but NOACA has already identified $3.3 million in funding for a trail along the river’s edge, which will become part of the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail.

McNair said that Monday’s $9 million grant would provide the impetus to “fill the gap” in funds needed to complete the stabilization and the park.

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