About 100 people who attended a public hearing in Toledo's Point Place last night seemed generally enthused about the prospect of seeing boating opportunities enhanced by a $3.9 million recreational dredging project along the lower part of the Ottawa River.
But state and local officials left little doubt that the biggest hurdle may not be financial or environmental: It may be winning over officials from Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration in Lansing.
Although Erie Township and Monroe County both have passed resolutions in support of the project, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality remains opposed. Support from the Michigan DEQ is critical, officials said, because the state of Michigan claims ownership rights to land beneath water in its state.
Plus, there would be no benefit from just dredging the Ohio part of the project. Though nearly all of the Ottawa is in Ohio, the point at which the river's mouth empties into western Lake Erie's Maumee Bay is in Michigan.
"I would guess this project wouldn't go forward, even with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's approval, if Michigan isn't on board with it," said Dan Osterfeld, an Ohio EPA wetlands coordinator who made the main presentation at last night's meeting.
Dale Ruppert, a city of Toledo senior project engineer, said Ohio can't take a go-it-alone approach even if it wanted to do so for whatever reason because it would be impossible to get dredges into Point Place without passing through Michigan.
"We can't just dredge the Ohio part because the dredges are too big. They literally have to start in the Maumee Bay and dig their way here," he said.
The project, a one-time dredge that would stop at Summit Street, has been on the table in various forms since 1938. The latest version took shape within the last few years as a result of groups, such as the Maumee Remedial Action Plan and the Ottawa River Kleenup Association, working with Point Place businesses and yachting clubs to woo support from the city of Toledo and other governmental agencies.
Toledo is expected to cover up to $1.5 million of the total, despite the city's budget crunch. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has committed $450,000. Between those two entities, the nonfederal obligation of raising half the money through state, local, and private sources would be met, officials have said.
The federal government's share would have to come from a special congressional appropriation, not the general fund of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Howard Pinkley, a longtime yachting enthusiast and owner of a Point Place flag shop, said he's never been as optimistic about the project as he is now. He has lived in Point Place for 75 years and tried to get the Ottawa dredged for at least 40 of them.
"Get behind this new group of people," he implored those in the audience. "It's gonna get done."
Bob Nicely, Point Place Business Association president, agreed it would be a boon to that part of the city.
Kurt Erichsen, senior environmental planner for the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, said the level of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, is low enough near the river's mouth to be within U.S. EPA guidelines for such a project.
A best-case scenario is to begin the dredging in the fall of 2006 and spend three months doing the work, David Moebius, the city's commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor, said in an interview before the meeting.