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Army corps dredges mouth of Toussaint to aid boaters

OAK HARBOR - Less than two years after dredging part of the Toussaint River, the Army Corps of Engineers has returned to battle the sand that keeps clogging the river's mouth.

A Michigan contractor hired by the corps, MCM Marine, Inc., began removing 20,000 cubic yards of sediment from the river last week in preparation for the summer boating season. The work is scheduled to continue until April 15.

The company is using a crane mounted on a barge to scoop material from the river and deposit it on the downdrift side of the channel.

Bill Butler, an environmental protection specialist for the corps' Buffalo district office, said Lake Erie's low water level and strong wave action have filled the channel back in sooner than expected. “When we first dredged the harbor, we anticipated dredging every two to three years,” he said. Because of lower lake levels and because of the amount of material moving along the shoreline, quite a bit more was deposited in the channel.”

The corps last dredged the river's mouth in August and September, 1999, removing nearly 50,000 cubic yards of sand and other material and depositing it in the lake.

Since then, waves and wind currents have whipped up sand from the north and west shores of the Toussaint and dumped it into the river, Mr. Butler said.

The repeated dredging is a matter of “keeping the channel open,” he said.

In the spring and summer of 1999, the river filled up with so much sand that boats couldn't pass, costing local marinas business during their peak season. The corps spent nearly $700,000 to dredge the river that year. This year's smaller project will cost $217,600, with more than half of the funds coming from the corps.

Carroll Township is contributing $45,000 to the project, a sum that was matched by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said Julie McCoy, a capital improvements coordinator for the department's division of watercraft.

Ms. McCoy said the department helped fund the dredging as an “emergency'' project.

Mr. Butler said the work is complicated by the presence of military ordnance from a former testing site at Camp Perry, a longstanding problem in and along the river. Previous corps cleanups have uncovered material ranging from small-caliber gun cartridges to 165mm projectiles - some dating to World War II.

Later this year, the corps plans to remove ordnance from the beach and near-shore waters up to three feet deep, Mr. Butler said.

Marina operators said the dredging will help, but only for awhile.

“They can dredge, and they do a good job of dredging, but when the wind comes in from a certain direction, it fills right back in,” said LaVonne Cutlip, manager of the Toussaint River Marina. “What they really need out there is a permanent fix. If they could get a breakwall or something else that would block that sand from blowing in, that should stop it.”

Mr. Butler said the corps plans to study ways of correcting the problem for good.

“Some of the measures that could be investigated are different arrangements of breakwaters at the mouth of the river, or maybe a permanent hydraulic dredging plant,” he said.

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