Many Lining Up to Oppose Corps of Engineers' Dredging Plan

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A long-running battle escalated this month when the state of Ohio sued the US Army Corps of Engineers over its plans for disposing of dredged waste from Cleveland Harbor. To save money, the Corps wants to start dumping dredging waste into Lake Erie instead of putting it in storage facilities.

State and federal lawmakers, regulators and environmental advocates all oppose the Army Corps’ plan. They say the sediment at the bottom of the Cuyahoga River is too dirty to be put in the lake - it will increase toxins found in fish and spoil a regional asset.

Cleveland-area Republican Congressman Dave Joyce spoke on this morning's Sound of Ideas. "We can’t afford to make mistakes," he said. "We’ve made mistakes in the past – the stuff we swam in as kids, I don’t even want to think about that."

Joyce worked to add language to an appropriations bill that would bar the Corps from dumping in the lake without the state’s okay. He says the Corps can afford to store it, as it’s done for years.  

"7.9 million has been allocated, and the bids came in at four (million) if I understand it, and so there’s plenty of money to get this accomplished," he said.

The Corps says it needs money for other things, and will store the debris only if someone else will pay the more-than-million-dollar bill.

The state’s lawsuit aims to force the Corps of Engineers to store the waste and pay for it.

In a separate interview, the Corps wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit. But Buffalo District Commander Lt. Col. Karl Jansen said around the country, storage facilities like the one in Cleveland are filling up. And they’re expensive.

"The cost to maintain these harbors are growing over time, and there’s a backlog of operations and maintenance. Within the Buffalo district alone, we’ve got a $35 million backlog," he said.

Dredging keeps waterways clear for shipping. The sediment is often contaminated from past industry.  

Container storage of the waste was conceived as a transitional measure to avoid further contaminating lakes, as tougher environmental rules kicked in, Jansen said. Now, he argues, the dredged Cuyahoga material is cleaner, meeting federal standards for lake placement. By law the Corps is required to dispose of it the cheapest way possible that meets those guidelines.

But many think the federal standards are too loose, and the study used to justify the Corps’ plan is faulty.

Jansen declined to comment on that, saying it was related to the pending litigation.


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