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EPA Administrator Visits Cleveland For Update On Lake Erie Conservation

U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler visited the shores of Lake Erie and the U.S. Coast Guard in Downtown Cleveland Wednesday. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]
Andrew Wheeler standing behind a podium in front of Lake Erie.

Updated: 2:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020

The Ashtabula River is on its way to being removed from a list of areas of concern for environmental degradation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Wednesday during a visit to Cleveland for an update on Lake Erie and the surrounding watershed.

“We are within sight of the finish line in terms of returning Ohio’s rivers to health again so they can again become a place where people can swim, play, catch fish, and generally enjoy what this great state has to offer,” Wheeler said.

The Ashtabula River is the first area of concern in the state of Ohio to undergo the delisting process, Wheeler said, which requires signoffs from the state, U.S. EPA and Canada, and will be completed next year.

Efforts that began in the mid-2000s have led to $67 million in government spending to remediate sediment and restore habitat in and around the river, he said.

“Since then, 500,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment have been removed from inside and outside the navigation channel,” Wheeler said.

Restrictions on dredging activities to aid in restoration efforts were lifted in September, Wheeler said, kicking off the delisting process. The Ashtabula River will be the sixth area of concern to be delisted out of 31 sites across the U.S. selected for remediation in the 1980s.

The Black and Cuyahoga rivers are also making progress toward delisting, Wheeler said. The final list of management actions to restore and  clean up the Cuyahoga River were approved last month,  including the removal of the Cuyahoga Gorge Dam. Those changes are expected to be complete by 2024.

All management actions for the Black River have been completed, Wheeler said, and it will undergo an evaluation process over the next several years.

“The Black River and the Cuyahoga River [areas of concern] are not far behind as the momentum of restoring Lake Erie AOCs continues,” Wheeler said.

More than $24 million has gone into the restoration of the Black River in the past decade, Wheeler said. Cleaning up the Cuyahoga River will also come with an additional cost, Wheeler said.

The federal EPA awarded $694,000 to the Ohio EPA to continue restoration efforts for Lake Erie and the surrounding watershed, like the Cuyahoga River, through September 2022, Wheeler said. The award is the final installment of a three-year grant.

Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) on Wednesday voiced his appreciation for the work done along the Ashtabula River through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

“Without continued funding and support for the GLRI, we would not have made as much progress cleaning up and restoring areas of concern,” Joyce said at the event. “I applaud today’s announcements, and they reflect the continued success of the GLRI and its direct impact here in Northeast Ohio.”

GLRI funding also was used to complete construction on barriers to prevent invasive species like Asian carp from reaching Lake Erie through the Ohio & Erie Canal, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The challenges facing the Great Lakes are complicated, and that’s why we’re working to cultivate a holistic and thoughtful approach to addressing them,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede.  “All of them, including invasive species.”