Dumping Dredge Material in Lake Erie Should Be Prevented

The Nature Conservancy supports Ohio EPA’s decision to reject open lake disposal

COLUMBUS, OH | April 14, 2014

The Nature Conservancy supports the Ohio EPA’s decision to deny a request by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use the open waters of Lake Erie as a dumping ground for dredge material from the Cuyahoga River.

The EPA announced Monday that it has denied a request by the Corps for open water disposal of the waste, which is created when the bottom of the Cuyahoga is dredged to maintain open channels for shipping. The EPA directed the Corps to use confined disposal facilities for the sediment, which the agency said the Corps has used since the 1970s.

This method of disposal would be more protective of the environment, said John Stark, freshwater director for the Conservancy’s Ohio program.

“The Conservancy shares the Ohio EPA’s concerns that open-lake disposal would potentially result in an increase in PCB bio-accumulation in the Lake Erie food web, endangering the state’s prolific fisheries, wildlife and bird habitats, and public health,” Stark said.

Toxins like PCB can move through the food chain and eventually accumulate in the flesh of fish, and could threaten the Lake Erie fishery, which is worth at least $800 million annually and is at the heart of the $11.5 billion Lake tourism industry.

“Lake Erie is an environmental, recreational, and economic asset to the state that should be protected to assure its ongoing viability to provide those opportunities for all Ohioans,” Stark said. “It is our understanding that Congress has directed the USACE to dispose of sediments in the least costly manner, which can be a constraint in their decision-making process, but the health of the public, environment and wildlife should be considered as part of that cost.”

As an alternative to confined disposal facilities, the Corps could also explore beneficial re-use of some of the sediments in the dredge material, the Conservancy said in a letter to the EPA supporting the agency’s decision. The Conservancy offered to work with the EPA, the Corps, and other stakeholders to assess alternatives to open lake disposal and with federal officials to provide the Corps additional flexibility in dealing with the challenges of dredged materials.

“We support additional research into the feasibility of alternative methods of disposal, including using the sediment to create coastal habitat, which could benefit the environment and the public,” said the letter, signed by Josh Knights, the Conservancy’s executive director in Ohio.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global. To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Randy Edwards
The Nature Conservancy


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