The Port of Toledo and the Maumee River Basin
As a result of all of this flowing soil, Toledo Harbor has large dredging needs. In recent years, the Army Corps of Engineers has removed an average of 800,000 cubic yards of sediment from navigation channels in the Maumee River and about 200,000 cubic yards in the outer harbor in Lake Erie. These amounts make the Toledo Harbor project the largest regular dredging project on the Great Lakes. The high volume of sediment, if allowed to build up, would in the short term substantially affect commercial vessel drafts and in the long run threaten the port's existence. The port handles an average of 15 million tons of cargo a year, including coal, iron ore, grain and various general cargoes, and its activities generate more than $500 million dollars in economic activity annually with over 5,000 dependent jobs.
Dredged Material Disposal
In-water disposal of dredged material in the Great Lakes was commonplace prior to the late 1960's. A hundred years of industrial activity and related pollution in port cities resulted in contaminated sediments often in harbors and navigation channels. A law passed in 1970 authorized the building of confined disposal facilities in the Great Lakes for dredged material not suitable for placement elsewhere. About half of the 4 million cubic yards of material dredged each year in the Lakes goes to CDFs including one built in the Toledo area in the mid-70's. This amount is the approximate equivalent of 400,000 standard dump truckloads.
Since the 1970s, most of the dredged material from Toledo Harbor has been disposed of either in a CDF or at a nearby Lake Erie site. But in 1991, USEPA agreed with Ohio EPA's determination and local citizen interests that open lake disposal should be discontinued because of toxic and phosphorous contamination concerns as well as resuspension of material from the Lake Erie site. This prospect raised a major issue. If all or even most dredged material were to be placed in existing CDFs then their capacity would be exhausted sooner rather that later. This, in turn, would require a new CDF, thus doubling local dredging costs from the $2.2 million a year now (1999). Also, as of 1996, new CDFs are to be cost- shared with a non-federal sponsor so local money would also be needed.
A Disposal Alternative for the Future
The erosion and sediment reduction component has made significant progress. In 1995 the Army Corps of Engineers and the Natural Resources Conservation Service entered into a partnership for a two-year demonstration project. This was the first time that Corps dredging funds in the amount of $750,000 were directed to upland soil conservation measures. The Toledo Harbor Project entailed a program of grants to 22 basin counties for sediment projects that addressed vegetative cover, conservation tillage, structural controls such as sod waterways and numerous information/education activities. The results of the demonstration program are encouraging. The goal for the agricultural component was a 130,000 cubic yard reduction in sediment at Toledo Harbor and half of this target has been achieved. Since 1991, farmers in the Maumee basin have been increasing their use of conservation tillage practices from near 30 percent to a 60 percent rate now.
The second strategy is to find uses for material dredged from the Federal Navigation Channel and placed in confined disposal facilities. The key is to find a means of enhancing the quality of the dredged material and make it a viable product for re-use either in commercial applications or for public use. The Port Authority has taken the lead in developing a recycling alternative involving the mixing of treated municipal sewage sludge with dredged material and producing a quality topsoil. Since the late 1980's, this effort has provided an outlet for these two so-called waste products, and provided a quality soil protective covering for use on municipal landfills. In addition to preserving space for dredged material disposal, the use of the recycled material for landfill cover has saved the City of Toledo a significant amount of public money.
The large quantity of annual dredged material also required the working group to consider capacity expansion. Currently, there are a variety of options being investigated including raising the dikes at existing confined disposal facilities and the possible construction of a new confined disposal facility which would also act as a protective barrier for a sensitive wetland area in the western basin of Lake Erie. While there is significant concern regarding the use of bottom land for new disposal areas, the construction of a new confined disposal facility which would provide multiple environmental benefits appears to be gaining governmental acceptance.
Note: This case study was prepared during the summer of 1999.
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Last Modified: June 27, 2003
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