How a mid-Atlantic hurricane hit Cleveland hard, frustrating many and devastating a forgotten few

Sunk by Sandy 

How a mid-Atlantic hurricane hit Cleveland hard, frustrating many and devastating a forgotten few

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Edgewater Marina, for its part, picked up a handy $1.6 million in emergency management funding Jan. 14. Reports show that more than 20,000 cubic yards of debris and wreckage continued to ebb and flow in the tide following Sandy. Dozens of boats had sunk the night of the storm - more than 30 by some estimates. Dozens more were damaged immeasurably. Officials cite Edgewater Marina as likely bearing the worst of the storm damage, compared to the rest of the Northeast Ohio shoreline.

The plan going forward is to restore the marina completely and reopen it by boating season. Detroit-based SmithGroup JJR is currently drafting a plan to rebuild the facility, which is littered with decimated dock structures.

***

But for private citizens, taxpaying voters, boat owners and others, the responsibility of moving ahead lies in their own hands and in their own wallets. Elias finds herself in a precarious position, flanked by an overly apathetic public on one side and a committed contingent of activists and environmental advocates on the other. The obstacles ahead, she says, are numerous.

"I think very soon after, it became: Well, what is anyone supposed to do?"

The answer to that question began unfolding in bits and pieces after the storm.

***

Just off an ice-ridden little roadway near the shoreline, two lake-faring vessels are poised alongside each other. Dubbed Flotsam and Jetsam, these custom-designed boats are two critical pieces of the region's post-Sandy puzzle. Built to collect vast amounts of floating debris, their work began in Cleveland just prior to Elias' preternatural dream.

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority received a $425,160 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant last summer, via the work of Jim White, director of sustainable infrastructure programs -- the father of the boats, many say. That grant money funded the two vessels and gave the port a unique leg up in the sometimes-overlapping realms of emergency and ecology.

Flotsam gathers debris floating in the water - sticks, plastic, styrofoam and much more - with a long mechanical arm before handing it off to Jetsam, which transports it back to shore for pickup. The two boats are expected to collect upwards of 800 cubic yards of materials annually. Imagine, as the port illustrates it, 53 dump trucks filled to capacity with litter and detritus.

Commissioned on Oct. 17, months ahead of schedule, the two debris-collecting vessels began working right before the storm's impact on our lake shore. The timing proved impeccable, though the boats hadn't necessarily been crafted with hurricanes in mind. Within a few weeks of their nascent launch, before the weather turned frigid and the boats went into storage, the port gathered 42 tons of debris from the lake and the Cuyahoga River. Estimates put the hurricane-related collections alone at more than 20 tons. And that was all inside a month, prior to the boats being docked in mid-November.

The unintentional timing of the boats' commissioning accomplished many things for the port: a more effective emergency response, a positive public relations development and an opportunity to expand on its work. When a mid-Atlantic hurricane crashed into Northern Ohio, the bizarre situation offered the new rigs and the new staff - comprising members of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance - a chance to test this new approach. From the storm itself to this particular brand of cleanup, the whole enterprise was unprecedented.

"That was a strong event," Brian Lynch, vice president of planning and development of the port, says. "I've never seen the river flowing as it was. It was flowing in different directions." The environmental hazards of massive amounts of debris floating in our region's main water source are numerous, Lynch says. The hurricane's winds managed to thrust the bowels of the lake - like remnants of broken boats, plastic bottles and, famously, pieces of Cleveland Municipal Stadium - directly into the mouth of the river and onto beaches across the shoreline. He added that this sort of work is one cog in the effort to revitalize the river and maintain good standing with the EPA. The post-Sandy cleanup was swift and thorough, but he cautions that there's still much work to do this spring and beyond.

A week after the fringes of the storm struck Cleveland, the port received news of the rejection of a levy request seeking an estimated 400 percent increase in taxpayer millage. The funding pitch, which was seen as incomplete by many, would have helped broaden the scope of cleanup efforts along the shoreline, per the port's plans.

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