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The fight over Horseshoe Lake: Local group files lawsuit against Shaker and Cleveland Heights

The conflict is over the lake's future, and how it should be restored.

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Horseshoe Lake was once a pristine place to visit for Cuyahoga County residents, but after being drained a few years ago because of a damaged dam, it's now an empty basin with an uncertain future.

The local group Friends of Horseshoe Lake has filed a lawsuit against the cities of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights, who lease the parkland from the city of Cleveland. The group alleges the two municipal governments haven't honored their lease agreements to restore the lake to its full potential.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, who services those two cities, has $14 million plans for the area. They say the irreparable dam can't be replaced, so they want to refurbish the streams to improve water quality and long-term resilience of the land.  

"So, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is requiring (the dam damage) to be addressed," Matt Scharver, Deputy Director of Watershed Programs for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, said. "Our stormwater master plan determined that, from a stormwater management flood control standpoint, this dam facility and the storage or impoundment behind it was no longer necessary to address the flooding downstream, so this provided an opportunity for the district to make a recommendation to the cities of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights to restore two branches of Doan Brook — the north branch and the middle branch — restore a stream habitat, and really take what is now an accessible six-acre park within the parkland and expand that to 60 acres of accessibility with more natural lands [and] more stream restoration, which is better for water quality and really better for resiliency long-term for this infrastructure."

But Mansour Gavin law firm attorney Tony Coyne, who represents Friends of Horseshoe Lake, vehemently disagrees with that plan.

"Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights are right now acquiescing to the sewer district, which wants to improve stormwater management in the Doan Creek tributary watershed, which we agree needs to be addressed — no question about it," Coyne told 3News. "But we believe it can be done without destroying one of the great Shaker lakes, which is Horseshoe Lake.

Coyne says the group hired its own expert to assess the lake restoration, and believes the lake could be restored at a similar cost.

"Is there a safety issue? Yes. Does it look terrible right now? Yes. Should we try to work to bring it back to where it was? Yes. Might the lake be a little bit smaller potentially, but let's have that discussion," he said. "Let's work toward that goal instead of saying why we can't do it.

"We believe it can be done in an alternative way. It would be cost effective and also enhance stormwater management, and we haven't been able to get our local governments to work cooperatively to get that done."

Construction for the restoration plans is expected to start in 2025, and it could take up to four years to complete. WKYC reached out to the City of Shaker Heights about the lawsuit, and a representative said "no comment." We never heard back from the City of Cleveland Heights.

Both cities have 28 days to respond to the lawsuit. To read more about the sewer district's plans, click HERE.

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