Commentary: We Have Come Too Far

In 1992, the movie ”A River Runs Through It” hit the screen with a moving story about two brothers growing up in Montana during the 1930s.

Spectacular scenes of fly-fishing in crystal clear rivers dotted the screen throughout the movie.

When I arrived as pastor of Saint Patrick Church on Oak Hill Avenue in Youngstown on tax day, April 15, in 1985, I crossed over the river that I grew up with. Looking down and over the Market Street Bridge, I was aware that the Mahoning River was a far cry from pristine waters, and Youngstown was still reeling from the shutdown of the mills in the late 1970s.

By Edward P. Noga
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The paragraphs above are printed in italics because they are the first ones I wrote for The Business Journal in August 2019. As I look back at that first column, I note the final paragraphs of that essay because some of it has come to pass less than three years later.

Recently, the Eastgate Council of Governments announced that nine dams will be removed along the Mahoning River. “Imagine a river trail with scenic views of wildlife, forested groves, wetland complexes, quaint mill towns and entertainment destinations. It’s all there waiting to be discovered,” the planning agency said in its announcement.

Youngstown, Warren and smaller communities along the Mahoning River are starting to visualize and imagine what can happen when we realize in each of our local communities that “a river runs through it.”

In the past several months, communities along the Mahoning River are building on the visions and dreams that local organizers, like the Eastgate Council, have been promoting. For instance, the river has attracted new wineries and restaurants in Warren. The city of Struthers has benefited from the recent removal of one of the dams just north of its downtown. This removal and reopening, if you will, has sparked new interest and long-term planning to capitalize on the removal.

Lowellville is working on a park and boat livery in its city limits and a private developer is launching some new housing.

Our region’s convention bureau has stunning statistics about financial and personal benefits from what is happening along the river that runs through our Valley.

In just one weekend last summer, thousands converged along the river for the Festival of the Arts at Wean Park in Youngstown. A weekend later, I attended a church picnic under the Market Street Bridge on the southern end of downtown Youngstown.

From canoeing north of Warren to the developments in Lowellville, a satellite map of the Mahoning River is now dotted with projects, plans and the continuing dreams of many who are excited about repurposing the river.

With the dreams and plans and the reality of modern day living and technology, there also is a renewed interest in the often-woeful condition of the infrastructure of our nation.

Research and studies have shown us that many of the essential waterways and the highways, roads and bridges we need to move around on are in a sorry state.

Interested citizens and stakeholders have raised serious concerns about the current proposal to string “super” power lines along our river.

Admittedly, the need to update is well documented. But the mantra for this proposal has been dubbed “right project/wrong location.”

The groundswell of concern continues as folks from all over are asked to express their concern to local, state and national leaders.

In Youngstown and surrounding areas, recent power outages, planned and unplanned, happen all too often. Yes, an upgrade is needed.

But the suggested location will literally draw a line (with poles) across and above millions and millions of dollars of river investment that
now draws thousands and thousands here.

In addition, those who have tirelessly worked on the future of the river (well before it was popular to do so) have raised numerous concerns about the environment and about the people who use these riverfront venues if FirstEnergy’s powerline proposal is adopted.

Friends, we have come too far in reimagining and repurposing a natural resource.

We have come too far in improving the quality of life in our Valley to turn back.

We have come too far.