Sunday, May 10, 2015

Grand River dredge spoil is environmentally okay, Cuyahoga River's stuff is not

While disposing of the spoil dredged from the lower Cuyahoga River has Ohio’s environmental officials on edge, not so the muck scooped from the lower Grand River.

In fact and - in spite of some strict protocols put in place by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency at the insistence of Governor John Kasich – the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers has been given the green light to dredge the Grand River’s lower 8,300 feet.

All of which is unlike just to the west and the Cuyahoga River. Here a legal spat between Ohio and the Corps is destined for federal court intervention.

The reason being that in April Ohio filed suit in federal court to prevent disposing toxic-contaminated material hauled up from the lower Cuyahoga River into the open Lake Erie.

However, the Corps has stated it won’t use its money to pour the toxic-contaminated spoil into the open lake unless someone else pays for its proper disposal. That someone else being Ohio, and a point to which the state via the Ohio Attorney General takes great exception.

And though the federal government says the dredging is not only necessary for proper commercial navigation of the Cuyahoga River but the spoil is environmentally benign is another point of contention for Ohio.

None of which is of controversy with the Grand River, located roughly 20 miles east and downstream of the Cuyahoga River.

Under a permit issued by the Ohio EPA the Corps is allowed to conduct maintenance dredging of the Grand River’s navigation channel and for a distance of 8,300 feet upstream from the Lake Erie tributary’s mouth.

Up to 250,000 cubic yards of spoil – or approximately 188,000 tons - is specified in the permit with some 60,000 cubic yards earmarked for placement in the so-called littoral (near shore) zone and east of the Grand River’s mouth.

Such placement is performed in an effort to help beach enrichment which in turn is to aid in helping prevent loss of the highly erodible high banks found east of Fairport Harbor.

The remaining 190,000 cubic yards of dredged material is listed for placement in the open waters of Lake Erie, the Ohio EPA permit says.

Backing up its argument that the expected 250,000 cubic yards of material is okay for such placement the Ohio EPA says “The water quality certification complies with Governor Kasich’s executive order.”

That order is pretty environmentally specific, too , and  “… which requires (the) Ohio EPA to prohibit the open lake disposal of dredge material in Lake Erie if the dredge material could result in higher levels of a chemical in fish that ‘bioaccumulates’ throughout the food chain.”

Of equal issue, the Ohio EPA says, its permitting process cannot violate any international treaties or compacts; a system by which the Grand River dredging project achieves.

“These requirements are part of the state’s Coastal Management Program, which is enforced through the federal government’s Coastal Zone Management Act,” says Ohio EPA spokeswoman Linda Fee Oros.
Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.

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