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Ohio EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers Remain at Odds Over Lake Erie Dumping

Picture of a dredging operation in Cleveland's shipping channel

The Ohio EPA has given the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval to dredge Cleveland’s shipping channel. However, they continue to disagree over where some of the dredged material should be dumped and what environmental impact it could have. 

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer says the Army Corps is obligated by law to keep shipping channels open, and now the corps can start dredging Cleveland harbor and the Cuyahoga River.

“This week we have issued the final water-quality certification that will allow the corps to dredge. However, we have put conditions on the water-quality certification that prohibit the corps from putting any of the dredged material into the open waters of Lake Erie.”

At issue is the last section of the river. The Army Corps wants the cheaper option of dumping the dredge material in Lake Erie. It says it’s safe for open water. But Ohio EPA studies dispute that, saying the material could be too toxic and risky for the shallow lake.

“We denied that part of their application because of concerns we have that PCBs, which accumulate through the food chain, would continue to accumulate in fish, particularly walleye in Lake Erie -- and cause more stringent fish consumption advisories.”

Does the corps have enough money?
Army Corps Commander Karl Jansen says it’s not certain the $2.8 million it has budgeted to dredge the 6-mile shipping channel will cover the full cost if the corps cannot use some open-lake disposal.

“The 5 miles from the mouth of the river upstream, the federal standard is still confined disposal placement. So we will dredge that and place in the federally operated confined disposal facility at full federal cost. Any additional cost we’re talking about does only relate to the upper channel portion, that last mile.”

The Corps wants the state of Ohio to pay for disposal of the last mile’s dredge material if it’s put into the containment facility.

What happens next could be decided by a federal judge considering a lawsuit over the issue. Meanwhile, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is calling for an investigation into allegations that the corps intentionally cut its budget so it could use lake disposal. The corps denies that.