It may still feel like winter, but the spring migration of birds over Lake Erie has already begun. Nearly 300 different species of birds now stop to rest and feed at a site on Cleveland's shoreline. Dike 14 is man-made land near Gordon State Park east of University Circle. There's a long-standing plan to make a new recreational park on the site. But preservationists say the Port Authority's intention to level Dike 14 will destroy an important wildlife habitat. 90.3's Karen Schaefer reports.
Karen Schaefer- In the middle of a snowstorm in early March, there aren't many birds to be seen over Cleveland's Dike 14. From a small bluff overlooking Lake Erie near Gordon State Park, the land slopes down to a small promontory with a sculpted, rocky shoreline. Twenty-year old trees skirt the high ground. Scrubby bushes line mud flats frosted with winter snow. It's an unpromising piece of undeveloped wasteland along Ohio's Lake Erie shore. But that's exactly why Glenn Landers of the Ohio Sierra Club says Dike 14 is essential to millions of migratory birds.
Glenn Landers- So, this is it. It's 88 acres altogether. It hasn't been filled in evenly, so that's actually created a number of distinct habitats. And consequently, this area provides usage for many different types of birds.
KS- Birdwatchers with the Ohio Audobon Society have counted 268 different species here. But Dike 14 isn't a natural wildlife refuge. Since the 1970's, the Clean Water Act has required that polluted sediments dredged from the Cuyahoga River be contained. They've been placed in off-shore sediment disposal facilities -- or cdf's -- like this one. The U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers has been dumping river dredgings into Dike 14 for 20 years. Over that same time, trees and other plants have seeded themselves on this man-made land, making a rare refuge for wildlife along an otherwise urban shoreline. Now the dike is full and the Corps has turned it over to the Cleveland Port Authority. Eventually the city will take possession. Landers and other conservation groups would like to preserve the site as a migratory bird sanctuary. But he says the Port Authority seems to have other plans.
GL- Our understanding is that the Port Authority says there's some excess capacity here. They still have some room left to put fill in it. And the plan is to just top it off and level it off. And that would destroy all the wildlife values that are here now. And then, after that, they say there'll be some kind of opportunity for the public to have input on future use.
KS- Dike 14 is by no means unique. Ted Valerio in Buffalo, New York is the Army Corps' project manager for the Cleveland site. He'll be overseeing repairs to the dike walls over the next two years. He says there are hundreds of such filled cdf's around the Great Lakes region.
Ted Valerio- For example in Baltimore, they did develop some kind of theme park out of the containment disposal facility. In Lorain, I believe they have a master plan what they're going to do with the cdf. And Dike 14, I saw a master plan that was developed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
KS- That master plan was actually developed in the late 1970's. That's when the cash-strapped city of Cleveland turned over guardianship of its lakefront parks to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. In January, Cleveland architect Tom Zarfoss unveiled a plan to create a sculpture garden on the site.
Tom Zarfoss- This is a very good birding place. So we'd want to keep at least a good portion of this park, manage it in a way that the birds would enjoy. Remaining the way it is would be a pretty poor choice. A managed habitat would be much better and what we're proposing is that kind of habitat.
KS- Conservationists say it doesn't make sense to bulldoze the existing habitat in order to create a new one. They're worried about what will happen to the millions of migrating birds if habitat on Dike 14 is even temporarily lost. Like Zarfoss, they believe that the city will ultimately lease Dike 14 to the ODNR in Columbus for park development. But the agency's Phil Miller says until he hears from the Port Authority, it's not a done deal.
Phil Miller- Obviously, if there are specific intentions of turning it over to the state, then we're going to continue to ask questions and including, how are you managing Site 14 right now and what does that mean when you want to turn it over. And if it looks like there's a situation where their main management and use of Site 14 is not compatible with the mission of ODNR, obviously then we're going to have some kind of input.
KS- Officials at the Port Authority did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Miller says in the meantime, his agency's hands are tied. But he agrees with local conservationists that planning for any new park should be an open, public process.
There are other concerns over Dike 14, in addition to the debate over its future. At present it's unclear who has responsibility to continue monitoring of the site for environmental pollution. There are also questions about its adaptation to human use. For now, conservationists are hoping the birds will still have reason to stop here on their migratory wanderings. And they hope to get some answers at a March 14th public forum sponsored by the Cleveland Waterfront Coalition. On Dike 14 in Cleveland, I'm Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.