Tuesday, May 12, 2015

UPDATED Ohio wins first legal round against Army Corps regarding Cuyhoga River dredging

In the opening legal salvo over the environmental propriety of dumping spoil dredged from the bowels of the Cuyahoga River, score it Ohio “One,” and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Zero.”

And it was not just a legal victory for Team Ohio Attorney General but also Team Lake Erie, a state environmental activist group says.

MikeDeWine – Ohio’s Attorney General – filed suit in federal court last month to force the Corps to ante up $1.4 million to properly dispose of 180,000 cubic yards (240,000 to more than 300,000 tons) of sediments to be dredged from the lower Cuyahoga River.

Specifically at what is known as the river’s “Sixth Mile,” near the ArcelorMittal Company’s steel plant.

While the Corps is happy to perform the dredging it insists on someone else paying for its disposal. The reason for avoiding open dumping into Lake Erie is that Ohio says this spoil is still contaminated with various chemicals.

And these chemicals such as PCBs will find their way through Lake Erie’s food chain and ultimately to the people who eat their walleye, perch, channel catfish and other sport-caught fish species.

However, the Corps contends the spoil is not polluted and is safe enough for open Lake Erie dumping. Hence the lawsuit filed by DeWine in the name of Ohio, particularly the state’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Simply put, says DeWine, the Corps not only is disobeying no fewer than three federal environmental protection laws it is abdicating its own rule-making policies.

May 13 Federal Judge Donald C. Nugent ruled in favor of DeWine’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the Corp.

“This is great news for Cleveland, for Ohio and for Lake Erie,” DeWine said. “Properly dredging the entire Cleveland Harbor is absolutely vital to the economic well-being of the state as well as to the environment.”

Thus, also says DeWine, there is ample reason to rejoice in having Judge Nugent order “the Corps to do what the law requires.”

No less thrilled is the Ohio Environmental Council, which also notes that the lawsuit is far from resolved with who must pay $1.14 million for properly disposing the dredge spoil still the leading issue.

“However, the federal court’s ruling – which characterized the Corps’ position as ‘blackmail,’ makes it clear that the state of Ohio is highly likely to succeed on this count as well,” said Kristy Meyer, the Council’s Managing Director of Agriculture, Health and Clean Waters Programs.

Meyer went on to praise DeWine for “putting the health and safety of people and wildlife first.”

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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