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Published: Wednesday, 2/25/2009

EPA gives Ottawa River update

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Ottawa River will take a giant leap toward recovery after its $43 million dredging is completed at the end of 2010, but there are no promises it will ever return to being a fishable, swimmable stream again, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official said yesterday.

Scott Cieniawski, an environmental engineer from the U.S. EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago, told 40 people at Walbridge Park in South Toledo that the joint effort between his agency and the Ottawa River Group is aimed at to reducing cancer-causing pollutant levels in the river to meet government safety regulations by digging out the worst areas.

"You reduce the source of contamination in the upstream areas and let nature take its course downstream," said Mr. Cieniawski, who was accompanied by other federal EPA officials involved in the upcoming project.

The update during yesterday's 2009 Maumee AOC Summit was sponsored by Partners for Clean Streams, an offshoot of the former Maumee Remedial Action Plan Implementation Committee.

Remedial action plans were developed at 43 Great Lakes watersheds designated "areas of concern" by the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission following 1987 amendments to a treaty the two nations had signed to clean up the lakes in 1972. Toledo-area watersheds - the Maumee and Ottawa rivers, plus several other streams - fall under the treaty's Maumee Area of Concern.

The Ottawa, viewed by the Ohio EPA as the Buckeye State's most polluted river, has so many cancer-causing chemicals from industrial practices that the Ohio Department of Health has kept it off-limits to swimming and fishing for years.

The federal EPA and the seven-member business consortium are the two "money groups," each putting up $21.5 million, Mr. Cieniawski said.

An update for the public is expected to occur in March or April.

Dredging equipment is expected to be mobilized on site in July, with digging starting in August. It will be suspended for winter from December through April, 2010. The area to be cleaned runs from Lagrange Street to Suder Avenue.

It is expected to continue through December, 2010, Mr. Cieniawski said.

Plans for dredging were made in response to legal action initiated in 2004 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which cited federal law that allowed it to go after polluters for damages to natural resources, said Dave DeVault, a case manager for the wildlife agency.

After a three-year investigation, the agency sent notices of intent to sue 20 industries that are believed to have polluted the river.

Those with the Ottawa River Group putting up money for the environmental dredging project could receive partial credit for any damages assessed against them. Negotiations are ongoing, Mr. DeVault said.

"Hopefully, this is a project that will move into the Great Lakes Legacy Act fold shortly," said Marc Tuchman, an environmental scientist in the U.S. EPA's Great Lakes office.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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