Armed with $10 million that state Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, helped obtain for it, the Ohio EPA hopes to significantly reduce or even eliminate open lake dumping in Toledo's harbor over the next five years.
Open lake dumping in Lake Erie has been an issue for years among environmentalists.
The timetable announced by Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler isn't fast enough for the Ohio Environmental Council, which said it amounts to an announcement that open lake dumping will continue for another year.
"We are disappointed that yet another season of open-lake disposal of dredged materials from the Toledo Harbor is in store for Lake Erie," said Kristy Meyer, managing director for agricultural, health and clean water programs at the OEC.
"But credit the Ohio EPA for committing to more environmentally-friendly, beneficial use of dredged materials from the Toledo Harbor in the near future," she said.
Jeffrey Reutter, director of Stone Laboratory, said he's pleased by the Ohio EPA's announcement.
"It's a very good thing to do," he said. "I'm very supportive of what Ohio EPA is trying to do."
The situation with the harbor is difficult, Reutter said.
"You don't want to shut down the port, and if you don't dredge, that's what you have to do."
Butler said an agreement has been reached by Ohio EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that carries out the dredging.
“This condition in the water quality certification creates a partnership between the State of Ohio and the USACE to protect the health of Lake Erie by seeking an economical and beneficial use for the dredge material to reduce and eventually eliminate open lake placement,” Butler said. “The agreement also keeps Toledo harbor and the federal shipping channel open, which is critical to the economic growth of Northwest Ohio.”
Gardner, backed by Gov. John Kasich and administration officials, obtained the $10 million in the state's new capital improvements budget.
By law, the Corps of Engineers has to use the cheapest environmentally-acceptable method for getting rid of dredged materials.
The corps contends that open lake dumping is environmentally acceptable. The state will cover the additional cost of using alternative methods, such as using dredged soil for landfill cover, fill dirt, wetlands restoration and uses on farms. Butler said he hopes to have several demonstration projects under way by the end of the current dredging season.
Reutter said the massive scale of dredging in the Toledo harbor makes the Ohio EPA's actions good news.
"The dump in the Toledo area is probably bigger than all the other dumps in the Great Lakes combined," he said, referring to open lake dumping.
He said the Corps of Engineers puts about 800,000 to 1 million cubic yards of dredged dirt back into the lake every year. Because of the amount of dirt, that puts significant amounts of phosphorus into the lake, feeding harmful algal blooms.
The dumping also makes the water of the lake dirtier and less clear, affecting creatures such as spawning fish that are on the bottom of the lake, he said.