Disposal option for silt spurs
Lake dredgings used to restore coal mine
By Tom Henry
A market for Toledo's muck?
Strange as that sounds, it's a possibility that has generated
some excitement among Ohio's environmental regulators.
Their hope is that much of the silt dredged from Great
Lakes shipping channels, such as Toledo's, could be used
someday to solve environmental problems rather than being
dumped in other parts of the lakes.
Although the concept is in its early review stages in
Ohio, officials said they are intrigued by what appear
to be promising results of a central Pennsylvania pilot
In that study, an abandoned mine was restored primarily
by a mix of silt and coal ash. Silt hauled to the site,
called the Bark Camp Demonstration Project in Clearfield
County, was dredged from New York and New Jersey waters
shortly after the project was initiated in 1995. Cement
kiln dust, lime kiln dust, or other products occasionally
are added to harden the mix. The result was a fill with
low permeability that's resistant to acid, allowing rainwater
to flow off the site.
A report issued in December claimed nearby water became
no worse and, in some respects, even improved. Trout in
a nearby stream were deemed safe to eat on an unlimited
basis, whereas in most parts of the state they have enough
contaminants to prompt an advisory of one meal per week
to be in effect.
The study was done by the Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection and a New York-New Jersey legislative
commission called COAST, which stands for Clean Ocean
And Shore Trust.
"It's just been a tremendous, tremendous success,"
Andrew Voros, COAST spokesman, told The Blade last week.
The possibilities are attractive to Ohio officials, who
long have been irked by the tons of silt the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers dumps in western Lake Erie - the warmest,
shallowest, and most ecologically fickle part of the Great
Lakes. When conditions are ideal, western Lake Erie also
is the most plentiful for fish reproduction, which makes
it a multibillion-dollar resource for sport fishermen
Toledo has the system's most-dredged channel. Records
show the Corps plans to dredge three times more silt from
Toledo this year than Cleveland, which has the second-most-dredged
The Corps insists that it does not put silt polluted
by heavy industrial chemicals back into the lake. That
material, about a third of the total, is mostly dug from
the Toledo harbor. It gets buried in a special waterfront
landfill near Oregon called a confined disposal facility.
But the sheer volume of what gets dumped into the lake
disturbs state officials, because of how it stirs up the
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has been trying
to get the Corps to phase out open-lake disposal for years,
at times even questioning the cleanliness of silt that
In a Feb. 2 letter to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm,
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft said the legal definition of contamination
"is very much at the heart of this contentious issue."
He further stated that placing dredged material in such
a shallow part of Lake Erie "where it can be spread
by wind and current action is counterproductive to our
efforts to restore this Great Lake."
Corps officials were not available Friday to comment
about the potential applicability of the Pennsylvania
study to this region, but they have said in the past they
are receptive to practical alternatives. Their reliance
on open-lake disposal, which dates back to 1985, is largely
cost-related: Dumping silt that falls within U.S. EPA
chemistry limits for cleanliness is far cheaper than building
enough landfills, they said.
The material is dumped in Lake Erie, 3 1/2 miles northwest
of Toledo Harbor Light. New confined disposal facilities
would cost $14 million and take eight years to build in
today's market, the Corps has said.
Transportation costs for moving wet, heavy silt easily
can run into the millions of dollars. Northwest Ohio has
some limestone mines. But the bulk of the state's mining
activity is coal in the Appalachia region, a drive of
several hours from the Toledo area.
The Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources,
the latter of which regulates Ohio's abandoned mines,
haven't even begun to come up with meaningful cost estimates,
Dina Pierce, Ohio EPA spokesman, said.
But officials believe it's an issue worth investigating.
"You have to dredge the harbor. But, boy, if you
could avoid open-lake disposal, that'd be great,"
Ms. Pierce said.
The fate of such a project likely will come down to its
feasibility and attractiveness to the private sector.
Oregon activist Sandy Bihn, who also has urged the Corps
to find other solutions, said the idea of using dredged
material to reclaim mine land sounds "wonderful."
She said her group, the Maumee Bay Association, supports
Pennsylvania's environmental regulators took a step forward
March 2 by issuing a general permit for the beneficial
use of dredged sediment, coal ash, cement kiln dust, and
lime kiln dust in mine reclamation to Lehigh Coal and
Navigation Co. The permit could make it possible for Lehigh
to use those products in the reclamation of the company's
Springdale Pit in Schuylkill County.
"The permit is a result of eight years of hard work,
demonstrating that dredged sediments can be used safely
and beneficially," said J. Frederick Grassle, director
of the Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences at Rutgers
University and formerly of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution