starts to flow on Ottawa River cleanup
The Ottawa River remains one of Ohio’s most polluted streams,
yet signs are emerging that better times are ahead for the
- One of the
most serious efforts to dredge a nonhazardous stretch
of the river is afoot, a $2.5 million project that would
enhance recreational boating by widening and deepening
the riverbed from Summit Street to Maumee Bay’s mouth.
Long viewed as a pie-in-the-sky dream of Point Place
boaters, the idea has been kicked around since the late
1960s but has gained momentum in recent months. Michigan
is still a holdout.
- The ecological
benefits of removing a 1928 dam in Ottawa Hills and
another old one in West Toledo, near Camp Miakonda,
are being considered. Both are relatively small dams,
but officials are wondering how much the local fish
population could be helped by re-establishing the river’s
Officials acknowledge those are subtle signs of progress,
yet say they are encouraged by the paths in which discussions
are headed, given how much energy has been spent in
the past talking about how to curb the flow of contaminants.
Ed Hammett, chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection
Agency’s northwest district office in Bowling Green,
noted how the Maumee Remedial Action Plan’s fifth biennial
report about the Ottawa River was the only one over
10 years that did not devote space to the river’s legacy
of pollution attributed to hazardous chemicals leaking
out of waterfront dumps.
Millions of dollars have been spent by responsible parties
to address that problem.
Millions more are being spent by the city of Toledo
on sewer improvements designed to prevent raw sewage
from spilling into the river after heavy rains, in part
so that the city can settle a federal EPA lawsuit.
"Now that these sources are dramatically reduced - I
wouldn’t say they’re gone - you can start moving on
to other things," said Cherie Blair, the Ohio EPA’s
Maumee RAP coordinator. The RAP is a coalition of private
and public interests working on restoration plans for
the Ottawa, the Maumee, and other Toledo-area waterways.
Officials conceded some improvements might not have
occurred if not for extenuating circumstances. One example:
A former eyesore along the river - an unlicensed junkyard
- that is being cleaned up and absorbed into a 112-acre
industrial park, largely because of the land’s proximity
to DaimlerChrysler’s Jeep plant, plus new laws that
encourage redevelopment of industrial sites.
Ms. Blair said the dredging issue started to move beyond
pie-in-the-sky status two years ago when preliminary
test results showed the area under consideration was
probably no more polluted than the Maumee River sediment
dredged almost annually to keep Toledo’s commercial
shipping channel open.
Ed Gustek, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager
in Buffalo, said the final environmental assessment
is due by December.
The Ottawa may be dredged near Point Place by the fall
of 2004, provided adequate funding can be raised and
no further complications are encountered. Then it would
be a matter of determining if more needs to be done
in successive years.
The biggest holdup appears to be participation from
Michigan. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) has secured
federal funds. Toledo has committed to the project.
A pitch was made last week to another potential co-sponsor,
the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Frank Nagy, a Monroe County planner, said he is aware
of the project but has not approached his county bosses.
He expects a lukewarm response, because the county -
which invested in the shaky stock market - anticipates
a $2.5 million deficit in its annual budget that starts
Michigan state officials have not been contacted yet
"Right now, it doesn’t look very good from the Michigan
side," Mr. Nagy said.
Even so, Maumee RAP is upbeat about the river’s future,
knowing that it has a long way to go before boaters
are endeared to it again and that the community, as
a result, embraces restoration efforts to a larger degree.
The Ohio Department of Health’s longstanding fish consumption
and body contact advisories remain intact for much of
the river, and neither is likely to be lifted any time
soon, officials said.