State EPA to consider Army Corps
Agency asked to up open-lake disposal
By Tom Henry
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spends as much as $6
million a year to keep Toledoís shipping channel clear
Itís an endless job of digging up the muddy, chemically
tainted goop that covers the bed of the Maumee River with
everything from automobile engine oil to farm fertilizers
that get washed into the stream after each rainstorm.
Few people argue with the need for such dredging: As
a major Great Lakes hub for coal, iron ore, grain, and
other bulk cargo shipments, the Port of Toledoís impact
on the local economy is in excess of $500 million a year,
supporting more than 5,000 jobs.
Toledoís harbor is one of the most heavily dredged in
the Great Lakes. It hasnít been uncommon for the Corps
to dig up 800,000 to 850,000 cubic yards of silt from
the channel in recent years.
On average, about 60 percent of the dredged silt returns
to the lake. Biologists fear that causes environmental
havoc to the valuable fishery, though itís not the most
polluted sediment. The other 40 percent - typically, whatís
taken out of the heavily polluted inner channel - is buried
in a landfill known as a confined disposal facility.
Even with Gov. Bob Taft calling upon Ohio agencies to
be more assertive about protecting Lake Erie, the state
Environmental Protection Agency appears to be on the verge
of allowing even more open-lake silt disposal.
Tomorrow, the Corpsí request for state EPA dredging authorization
will be aired during a public information session and
hearing at 7 p.m. in Toledo City Council chambers at One
The application calls for three times as much open-lake
silt disposal as what the Ohio EPA deemed reasonable six
months ago, and beyond what the EPA has declared for years
The Corps is seeking authorization to dump 600,000 cubic
yards of sediment in a part of the lake thatís 31/2 miles
northwest of the Toledo Harbor Light, up from 550,000
cubic yards the Ohio EPA authorized in June.
"Yes, it appears to be back-stepping. The numbers
donít lie," said Dina Pierce, Ohio EPA spokesman.
A June agreement with the Corps was worded carefully,
Ms. Pierce said, because the state agency has urged the
Corps to phase out open-lake disposal. The Corps has resisted,
citing the huge costs of burying silt.
In exchange for relenting, the Ohio EPA said it expected
the Corps to get serious about trimming back on open-lake
disposal. It urged the Corps to find a way to limit to
200,000 cubic yards the amount of silt it puts back into
The Corps appealed the stipulation of that June agreement
to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission. That appeal
But the Corps also has upped its request.
In addition to 600,000 cubic yards it wants to dispose
of in Lake Erie, the Corps wants authorization to dredge
350,000 more cubic yards in the heart of the channel.
Thatís 950,000 cubic yards. The June agreement authorized
850,000 cubic yards, of which 300,000 was in the downtown
Corps spokesman Patrick Jones said more sediment must
be dug to maintain the shipping channel at its current
depth because water levels have dropped. "Lake levels
go down, you dig deeper, and you have more sediment. Itís
that simple," Mr. Jones said.
He said the Corps canít commit itself to phasing out
open-lake disposal because of the high cost to develop
more confined disposal facilities. Current sites were
built by the federal government. State and local agencies
will have to share costs of building others, he said.
Andy Buchsbaum, spokesman for the National Wildlife Federationís
Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, said he applauds Mr.
Taft, U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio), and U.S. Sen.
George Voinovich (R., Ohio) for trying to help the Great
Lakes region secure an unprecedented $6 billion for restoration
"Ohioís senators and governor are showing extraordinary
leadership, but theyíre battling the Corps of Engineers,"
The Ohio EPA canít impede access to the shipping channel,
for the obvious economic benefit the Port of Toledo has
on the region. But it hopes it can get the Corps to be
more sensitive about open-lake disposal, Ms. Pierce said.
She said securing a major congressional appropriation
might help address the issue.
"Itís frustrating a lot of people here," Ms.
Pierce said. "Weíre really trying to put some pressure
on the Corps to come up with an alternative."