By TOM JACKSON
Even as local conservationists fight to prevent soil from washing into creeks that drain into Lake Erie, the Army Corps of Engineers has been dumping hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of lake sediment into the lake’s western basin.
Environmental groups fed up with the practice have filed a legal action, seeking to force Ohio’s state government to halt the practice.
The National Wildlife Federation, joined by allies such as the Ohio Environmental Council, filed an appeal May 13 at the Environmental Review Appeals Commission, demanding that the Army Corps halt the practice of putting sediment back into the western basin of Lake Erie when it dredges Toledo’s harbor.
The groups are appealing a decision by Ohio EPA director Chris Korleski to allow the Corps to put up to 800,000 cubic yards of soil into the western basin after it has hauled it up dredging a navigation channel for Toledo’s harbor.
Korleski dislikes the practice but recognizes that the work has to be done every year to keep the harbor open. He’s been trying to work out an agreement without being “adversarial,” Ohio EPA spokeswoman Dina Pierce said.
The Corps puts 100,000 cubic yards a year of contaminated dredging sediment into a containment facility on land, but putting all of the sediment on land would likely cost a large amount of federal and state money, she said.
“Nobody has money at this point,” she said.
Pierce said that while dredging is carried out in other areas of the western basin, such as Huron and Sandusky, it has less impact than the work in Toledo. Sandusky is dredged only once every few years, and the amount is much less — 115,600 cubic yards in 2006, the last time the work was carried out, she said.
“Also, staff pointed out that in addition to the volume of material, and the very ecologically sensitive area of the extreme western basin, the material that is taken from Sandusky and Huron harbors is different than what comes from Toledo Harbor,” Pierce said. “Sandusky Harbor sediment is granular (sandy) and a lot of it is disposed of near the shoreline to replace sand that has washed out.”
Traci Clever, deputy district engineer for planning, programs and project management at the Army Corps’ Buffalo office, said the permit the Corps uses authorizes it to put sediment in a particular place if it meets water quality standards. She said the corps followed the rules in obtaining the permit.
Lake Erie provides drinking water for 11 million people and supports both a commercial and tourist fishing industry.
The washing of soil into the lake is considered one of the area’s biggest pollution problems. Much effort is expended by government agencies such as the Erie Soil and Water Conservation District in trying to reduce soil runoff.
The environmentalists say it makes no sense to battle soil pollution on land but allow the Army Corps to dump huge amounts of sediment into the lake.
“All they like is to say, I moved this many thousands of cubic yards,” said Rick Graham of Oxford Township, the president of the Izaak Walton League in Ohio, referring to the Corps of Engineers. “The more they can do, and the cheaper they can do, the better they look.”