A pro-Horseshoe Lake summary of the issues
Between formal public statements and social media, the debate over Horseshoe Lake has become a tangle of ideas and responses. The following is an attempt to organize them.
There is no apology here for being partisan [pro-lake]; those who want to remove the lake speak pretty well for themselves.
The neglected spillway of Horseshoe Lake was found in 2018 to have seriously deteriorated. The state ordered Shaker Heights to drain the lake in 2019. Shaker Heights turned to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. The sewer district [replied with] a hard "no," but offered to remove Horseshoe Lake forever. Everything after that is subject to dispute. The debate rages in the following areas:
Anti-lake: The dam is unsafe. If it broke, the water would endanger people in University Circle. It would be more cost-effective to enlarge only the lower lake dam. The upper lake has outlived its usefulness.
Pro-lake rebuttal: Horseshoe Lake is not the cause of University Circle flooding—that neighborhood flooded in 2020, after the lake was drained. The lake is valuable as an asset in an urban park, like the art museum lagoon—and it supported the value of millions of dollars in real estate.
Pro-lake: The lake can be modified to improve its flood-control ability and lift some of the load from Lower Shaker Lake. Removing the lake because the dam is damaged is like removing a road because of potholes.
Anti-lake: Doan Brook should be restored to its "natural" state.
Pro-lake rebuttal: People have been messing with the brook for more than 170 years, and the watershed has radically changed. The stream will never be the same. The diversity being promised comprises tiny minnows and bugs under stones; Lake Erie fish aren't going to migrate past University Circle and the Lower Lake dam. Critics don't seem to have a problem with the other dams on Doan Brook.
Pro-lake: The lake harbored quite a bit of life. Water birds returned every year. The Audubon Society said the lake was part of a significant bird area. The lake filters out silt and has a cooling effect in summer.
Legal and equity issues:
Anti-lake: The state says the dam is out of compliance with strict safety regulations. The sewer district says it will not spend money to keep the lake.
Pro-lake rebuttal: The Friends of the Horseshoe Lake's engineer says the dam can be made to comply with the regulations for less than what the sewer district plans to spend. The district is inconsistent; it's helping restore a lake in Garfield Heights, and didn't have a problem rebuilding the Green Lake dam. It must not be forgotten that the sewer district will not pay to develop park features. They will do what they want and blame it on cost control.
Pro-lake: Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights agreed to maintain the lakes when they signed a lease with Cleveland. They are still responsible.
Emotional, historic and aesthetic issues:
Anti-lake: Supporters tend to dismiss the lake's beauty and historic value, and say the lakes are for the wealthy.
Pro-lake rebuttal: Hundred of people were happy to stroll over the dam, rest their eyes on the water, and feel themselves a part of the lake's long history. A sculpted, low-erosion channel will be a shallow depression with a gutter of rip-rap (rock rubble) down the middle.
It's our generation's turn to save the lake for the future. The Friends of Horseshoe Lake are continuing the struggle. To help out, go to savehorseshoelake.com.
Peter Zicari is a former newspaper writer and editor, a longtime resident of the Heights, and passionate supporter of Horseshoe Lake. While he supports the Friends of Horseshoe Lake, he does not speak for them here.