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Economy and Business

Army Corps looks for alternatives for dumping Cleveland harbor sediment
Dry dumping and open-lake dumping may be two alternatives for next year

Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
The dredging of some 225,000 cubic yards of sediment from harbors like Cleveland's is crucial for shipments of raw materials and finished goods.
Courtesy of Army Corps of Engineers
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The Army Corps of Engineers announced today it will begin dredging the Cleveland harbor and Cuyahoga River next month – and will dispose of the sediment as it has for the last 40 years – dumping it at a dike near Burke Lakefront airport. But, as WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports, the Corps is warning that next year will have to be different -- and that’s pretty much guaranteed to generate more costs or controversy.

LISTEN: The Army Corps and the future of the Cleveland dredging

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Each year, the Army Corps dredges the shipping channel, loads hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sediment on barges, sucks in lots of lake water, mixes up a slurry and hydraulically pumps it into what it calls a confined disposal facility – and most folks know as a lake-side dike. 

But that recipe – with its roughly 3-1 ratio of water to sediment – takes up a lot of room. And room’s been running out at the dikes the Corps has been using. 

Nursing the status quo
Michael Asquith watches over the harbor plan for the Army Corps. And he was the one who put together the announcement that the Army Corps will continue to do what it has been doing for the last 40 years. But that’s the end.

“We’ve been nursing it along since at least 2006. We’ve been doing what we call fill management activity out there where were’ pushing materials around and creating internal berms and things so we can increase the capacity of the facility.”

The Army Corps had planned to yield to the inevitable this year by dumping the untreated sediment out into Lake Erie. It says its tests show levels of PCBs and other toxic materials are low enough to make that safe even if the dumping is near the intake for the water supply for the city of Cleveland. And says the city is both economical and environmentally sound. 

Opposition to one plan
Lots of people disagreed – including both of Ohio’s U.S. senators, a good part of its congressional delegation and the Ohio EPA. And given that EPA has the authority to veto the open dumping – and did just that – the Army Corps has agreed to go back to the dike one more time. 

But next year, Asquith says that will have to change. He acknowledges another run at open dumping in the lake is possible.

Added expenses
So is some version of a plan promoted by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority. It involves still putting the sediment onto dikes – but without mixing it with water. Asquith says that attractive when it comes to longevity, but not cost.

“If for some reason we’re pushed into a situation where you have to mechanically place the material, now you’ve got a crane on the shoreline and you’re scooping this saturated sediment out of these scows -- clamshell by clamshell -- and you have a tendency to be dripping material, dropping material. You’re trying to load saturated sediment into trucks and that has a tendency as they’re driving up over the berms it will actually slop over the trucks. So you’ve got to prepare the facility for that type of operation.”

He says the option would mean re-engineering the dike, likely with loading pads and reworked roadways. And that will be a lot more expensive.

Asquith says the Port Authority has suggested re-engineering a dike it has and charging tipping fees for sediment dumped there. And he notes that in other communities – including Buffalo where he works – partners ranging from Honeywell to environmental groups have chipped in to cover the costs of alternatives to open lake dumping. 

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