The pernicious practice of dumping massive amounts of silt dredged from Toledo’s shipping channel into Maumee Bay has been a big contributor to the plague of toxic algae in western Lake Erie. So it’s encouraging that local, state, and federal officials are exploring other options for disposing of the dredged sediment — provided, of course, that these methods prove safe and cost-effective.
Gov. John Kasich came to Toledo this week to promote a plan to take more than one-fourth of the city’s vacant, 52-acre Riverside Park for a $6 million project that will explore agricultural and other uses of dredged material. The sediment is laden with phosphorus, a major ingredient of farm fertilizer.
Phosphorus encourages the growth of algae blooms, so keeping it out of the Lake Erie watershed is essential. This summer, though, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to dump as much as 1 million cubic yards of dredge in open waters of Maumee Bay, with the approval of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
The demonstration project at Riverside Park initially would use about one-tenth of the silt dredged annually from the harbor ship channel, and could take more if its experiments succeed, proponents say. It also could encourage farmers to use the silt on their fields.
The project would include a new dock for dredging barges; its site would require new roads, fences, drains, and related improvements. Now the project must be shown to be compatible with other uses of the nearby waterfront.
It may be a bit of a stretch to suggest, as the governor did, that the dredge project is key to the economic redevelopment of Toledo’s riverfront. But it can help clean up Lake Erie while developing ways to use dredged material that are beneficial rather than environmentally detrimental, for farming and other purposes. Its success in Toledo can be replicated elsewhere along the Great Lakes.
This week, Toledo City Council postponed action on a measure that would enable city government to collaborate with the state and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority on the dredging project. Council members, appropriately, want to gather more information and public input on the plan. But once their concerns are met, the project appears worthy of their support.
Toledo is the most heavily dredged port on the Great Lakes. That creates a particular local obligation to dispose of dredged material responsibly, instead of allowing it to feed the algae blooms that threaten Lake Erie’s fishing industry and the bounty of other benefits the lake confers.
The Riverside Park project is a promising response to that challenge. More such constructive measures can help end open-lake dumping for good.