CONNEAUT — Citizens can question officials about an upcoming project to dispose of dredged material during a town hall meeting next week
The city intends to build a facility to turn the dredged material from the Conneaut harbor into topsoil to comply with a state law that banned dumping dredged material in Lake Erie after June 2020.
David Emerman, administrator of the Ohio EPA’s dredging program, Scudder Mackey, of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Costal Management and Conneaut officials will host a town hall meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Conneaut Human Resources Center, at 327 Mill St. to discuss the new regulations.
The Army Corps of Engineers dredges the Conneaut harbor every two years, most recently in 2018 when they removed 300,000 cubic yards of material from the area, said Shania Souder of the Buffalo Office of the Corps of Engineers. In 2016, they removed 180,000 cubic yards of material.
Conneaut City Manager Jim Hockaday said the increase was due to the Corps of Engineers doing as much work as possible before the new regulations go into effect and the cost of disposing of the sediment goes up.
The dredge material facility will include a drainage basin in the former Canada Northern coal facility that will produce 75,000 cubic yards of topsoil per year. It will accept dredged sediment exclusively from the Conneaut area, including sediment produced by Canada Northern’s dredging.
Hockaday said he wants Conneaut to take possession of the sediment to help build the facility.
“We can use that material to assist in constructing the berms,” Makey said.
The sediment from Conneaut harbor, always tested before it is dredged, has been clean, and Makey said he has no worries about it being used as topsoil.
A similar facility in Cleveland — about three times the size of Conneaut’s proposal — uses different methods to dry and separate the sediment, some requiring nothing but physics and gravity. In most cases, Mackey said, after it is separated from the sediment the water is cleaner than lake water. After it is tested, the water can be released back into the lake.
The ban on open lake dumping is part of an effort to clean Lake Erie and ensure it’s stability. About 10 percent of harmful algae blooms are caused by dumping nutrient-rich dredged soil into the lake, Hockaday said, and those blooms can make drinking water unsafe.
“I drink the water from the lake, so I’m for (the dumping ban),” Hockaday said.
As a potential cost of doing nothing, Hockaday pointed to Grand Lake St. Marys, a park in western Ohio. The lake there, much smaller than Lake Erie, has been inundated by e. coli and harmful algae blooms.
“We better get with it,” Hockaday said.
When the ban was announced in 2015, Emerman convened a dredge summit that produced three viable alternatives to lake dumping — dredge-to-soil, dredge-to-habitat and dredge-to-farmland — for the eight federal navigation ports along the lakeshore. Conneaut chose dredge-to soil, and Ashtabula chose dredge-to-habitat, a way of taking dredged sediment and turning it into a wetland.
The project will be funded by a $4 million grant from the state, but it will be designed and managed by Conneaut to make sure projects worked for the local area and residents, Makey said. The city will be able to take care of the dredged sediment itself.
The facility won’t be operating at full capacity until after 2021, Hockaday said, but if the Army Corps of Engineers goes to annual dredging — as he would like — it will give the city time to finish the project.
The facility would be near a brownfield area, an abandoned industrial site that can be covered with reclaimed dredged material, giving the local government another potential option to buy time for the facility to reach capacity.
“We have to keep these waterways open,” City Council President Debbie Newcomb said.