Congressional Bill Delivers Knockout Punch in Dredging Controversy

click to enlarge The Sam Laud navigates toward ArcelorMittal. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
The Sam Laud navigates toward ArcelorMittal.
Hailed as a victory for the state of Ohio, its workers and its waterways, a major congressional bill passed last week effectively concludes the local argument about where to place sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River.

According to a provision in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, the Army Corps of engineers may not dump sediment in Lake Erie or establish a Federal Standard to do so unless it meets the state's standards for water quality. That means that using Port-run confined disposal facilities along the lake will be the disposal method for the foreseeable future.

Here's the bill's official language:

"Disposal of dredged material shall not be considered environmentally acceptable for the purposes of identifying the Federal standard (as defined in section 335.7 of title 33, Code of Federal Regulations (or successor regulations)) if the disposal violates applicable State water quality standards approved by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under section 303 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1313)."

As reported extensively by Scene, the local dredging controversy has been ongoing for the past several years. It became much more public this summer and fall. Due to the Army Corps' refusal to dredge the river, the economic productivity of the ArcelorMittal steel plant (and hundreds of jobs) were said to be in jeopardy. The dredging of the river, by Michigan-based Ryba Marine Construction Company, is now underway.

The Port Authority has been lobbying hard for this legislation all year. A spokesman told Scene that the Port is viewing the bill as a victory. They are interpreting it in the same way that both Senators from Ohio are, as a clear message to the Army Corps that their Federal Standard does not trump the recommendations of the Ohio EPA.

“This is a win for local businesses and jobs along the Cuyahoga River and Port of Cleveland,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, in a joint statement with Senator Rob Portman. “Dredging is key to protecting our lake and keeping the channel open for businesses. This law will hold the Corps to our state’s water quality standards so we can keep Lake Erie clean.”

“Protecting the Cleveland Harbor Project is vital not only to the local environment, but to our economy as well,” said Portman. “This new law ensures that dredged material will not harm either the City of Cleveland’s water supply or Lake Erie’s ecosystem and that commercial navigation will continue safely. This is a big win for Cleveland.”

The Army Corps, when reached for comment by Scene, said they would not comment on pending legislation. When asked what was still pending about a bill that had already passed, the Army Corps responded that the President still has to sign the bill before it becomes law.