CONNEAUT — The Army Corps of Engineers has announced that Conneaut’s harbor will not be dredged this year, because there is no place to dump the material, according to a press release from the Corps of Engineers.
The Corps of Engineers handles dredging in eight Ohio ports. Conneaut is one of three Ohio ports that will not be dredged due to the issue.
An Ohio law went into effect in 2020, making it illegal to dump dredged material into Lake Erie, a practice called open lake dumping. The law is intended to improve Lake Erie water quality.
To avoid open lake dumping, Ohio agencies suggested a number of different ways the dredged materiel can be disposed of, including creating habitats, restoring soil and manufacturing marketable materials like topsoil. Conneaut plans to construct a facility that will separate the material into various parts, which can then be sold.
Conneaut City Manager Jim Hockaday said work on the project has been waiting on funding from the state, which was held up due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conneaut was awarded $4 million from the state in late 2018 for construction of the facility.
The first phase of construction is putting a clay cap on the site, followed by constructing the walls and sluiceways for the facility in phase two, Hockaday said.
Open lake dumping is a significant cause of harmful algae issues in the lake, Hockaday said.
“Fifty one percent of algae problems on Lake Erie are coming from open lake placement of dredged material,” he said. The cost of creating sites to dispose of dredged material is nowhere near to the amount the state has spent on other attempts to reduce algae issues, Hockaday said.
Large amounts of algae in the lake can produce harmful algae blooms, which can release toxins that are dangerous for humans and animals, according to the Ohio EPA.
The lack of dredging should not be an issue this year, but it could be next year, Hockaday said.
“It’s possible, if we have some big ... storms, that there’d be some shoaling, and [ships] could get a light load notice,” Hockaday said. “They’re saying it’s probably more probable next year that there would be some shoaling and some navigation reductions.”
Hockaday said that doesn’t mean ships wouldn’t be able to come into the harbor. Ships are loaded to near the maximum load they can carry and still enter the harbor, but with no dredging in Conneaut’s harbor this year and lake levels that have fallen from 2020’s record highs, ships may have to carry lighter loads next year, Hockaday said.
Andrew Kornacki, spokesperson for the Corps of Engineers, said teams will survey the channel to inform everyone of the conditions in the area.
Ships having access to Conneaut’s harbor is an economic driver for industry in the region.
Commodities that pass through Conneaut’s harbor supply $6.2 billion in business revenue, according to information provided by Hockaday.
Supply lines for U.S. Steel’s Pittsburgh facility run through Conneaut, Hockaday said.
“One hundred percent of U.S. Steel’s Pittsburgh operations are reliant on this port,” he said. “So when you look at its impact on the economy, it represents ... $6.2 billion in annual business revenue, 32,621 jobs and $1.7 billion in labor income on an annual basis.”
There is no other port in Ohio that can do the kind of work that Conneaut can do, Hockaday said.
“This is a big deal, and what people don’t understand is that it’s not just about jobs here in Ohio,” Hockaday said. “It’s about jobs in Pittsburgh, it’s about jobs in Minnesota and it’s about the U.S. steel market.”
Hockaday said he is looking forward to getting started on the construction of Conneaut’s facility.
“It’s been a long slog, and we know we’re nowhere close to the end,” he said.