In Cleveland Dredging Fight, A War Of Standards
Last month saw a new skirmish in the legal battle between the Army Corps of Engineers, the Ohio EPA, and the Port of Cleveland over what to do with dredging waste from the Cuyahoga River shipping channel. That was when Corps issued its opinion whether the dredging waste is safe to dump in the lake instead of being stored separately. The Corps said it is safe enough, though the Ohio EPA and Port of Cleveland disagree.
Eric Fitch is an Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Leadership at Marietta College. Ideastream’s Tony Ganzer asked him how this latest salvo fits into the dredging fight.
FITCH: “It’s reflective more of the political-economic situation, than is really the science. When you’ve got two organizations looking at the same data, coming up with divergent views, you’ve got to look a little deeper in what the situation is. And in my interpretation what the basic problem is: is that the courts ordered the dredging, the Congress authorized the money for the dredging, but they didn’t budget anything for the impoundment. So the Army Corps of Engineers is basically in a situation of ‘we’re ordered to do something, we have the budget to do it this way, the community wants us to do it differently, but if they want to do it that way, then basically, you’re gonna have to come up with the money.’”
GANZER: “Are you surprised that this back-and-forth has gone on for so long? It seems like were kind of debating the same things over and over again every few months.”
FITCH: “Oh no, this doesn’t surprise me at all, I mean this is almost standard operating procedure in places where you’ve got knotty issues like this. It happens in many, many places because the decision process is so fragmented.”
GANZER: “Ultimately somebody has to decide to pony up more money, right? Be it Congress is allotting more money either to the Army Corps for containment, or we have to have external sources, is that where we stand?”
FITCH: “I think that’s absolutely correct. Basically from reading the letter and the background information, I don’t think the Army Corps is adverse to putting it in impoundments, but they can’t. It’s not in their budget. If an external agency comes up with the funding for the impoundments, they’re more than happy to put it there. But what they have budgeted is dredge and dump.”
GANZER: “So until we have that, we’re just going to have a back-and-forth between agencies?”
FITCH: “Yeah, and I basically think that the only way that this can be resolved ultimately is for state and local elected officials, and citizens, to lobby their members of Congress, so that as we’re going through the next budget cycle to get the impoundments budgeted in at the federal level. I mean this is something that up until point X was the reality: dredge, impound, dredge impound. Well, the budget’s not there at the federal level now, and it should be put in.”
GANZER: “Is there anything else you think we should know as the controversy, the war rages on?”
FITCH: “Part of the thing is, a serious side, it is a battle of standards. Federal standard says it’s okay, state standard says no it isn’t. Part and parcel with that is that nobody’s saying there is nothing in there that’s bad. The feds are right now saying that it’s lower enough that it’s acceptable to dump it in the lake. I think we should be more cautious than that. We spent hundreds of years messing up Lake Erie, we spent decades cleaning up Lake Erie. If you think it’s clean enough to dump in there, well why don’t we err on the safe side and do what we’ve been doing and impound the material on land, just in case the standards we’re using are off.”