CONNEAUT — The new dredge material facility in Conneaut will be unlike anything else in the state, officials said at a public meeting about the project Tuesday.
About 30 people attended an open house at the Conneaut Human Resources Center on the proposed project, with City Manager Jim Hockaday, State Rep. John Patterson, David Emerman of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Scudder Mackey of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Conneaut City Council members.
Patterson said the state banned open lake dumping of dredged material because 10 percent of all harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie have been traced to the practice. Patterson supported one of two bills establishing the fund used to finance the Conneaut dredge material project, and he attempted to pass another bill to fund Lake Erie cleanup by putting a ballot initiative before Ohio voters to approve $1 billion over 10 years.
Protecting Lake Erie “has been critically important to me,” Patterson said.
Conneaut’s dredge-to-soil project mixes the dewatered material with sand, clay, gravel and compost to make top soil. The facility would be one-of-a-kind. Cleveland also has a dredge-to-soil facility, but the ports are too dissimilar for a direct comparison, officials said.
The biggest challenge with the project is there are no state regulations in place. Cleveland went through a rigorous approval process. The Ohio EPA is writing regulations to govern such facilities, but they have not been approved. Hockaday plans for the city to have one of the first permits under the new system.
He said he isn’t worried about the new EPA rules because the dredged material has higher quality than the United States EPA’s standards for residential soil.
The city will seek contractors to administer the site, and Hockaday said he hopes to select one soon so they can have input on the planning processes.
According to an open letter distributed at the meeting, the project and business planning phases are scheduled to take 10 months, and cost $125,000. Hockaday is planning for an aggressive timeline and wants to get the facility up and running early. The state law requires the open lake dumping to end by June 2020.
Emerman said the city’s port is a key part of Canada Northern’s supply chain, moving taconite — a type of iron ore — from Minnesota onto railcars and inland from the Great Lakes.
The city was presented Tuesday with a $4 million ceremonial check from the state, but the actual grant money will be paid out in disbursements.
Mackey said there is an allowance for overages built into the $4 million funding, anywhere from 20 to 40 percent, with the city able to request additional funding if the project goes over budget.
As an additional financial help to the project, Canada Northern and the city are in negotiations for the city to lease the former lower coal dock — where the facility will be built — for a nominal fee, potentially $1 for 20 years, with an option to extend the lease for another 20 years.
Hockaday said the facility can be used to alleviate drains on the city’s finances, such as the compost area and bio-waste facilities, both of which can be used to make topsoil. Both facilities are expensive to operate, but provide needed services for the city’s residents.
While planning and construction might be coming at an intense pace, Patterson said when the state passed the dredging ban in 2015, “2020 seemed lightyears away.”