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Published: Thursday, 11/5/2009

Ottawa River dredging delayed again

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Plans to start a $43 million environmental restoration project along the Ottawa River have hit another scheduling snag, though the federal official in charge of the unprecedented two-year project said it could get under way later this month.

Scott Cieniawski, an environmental engineer in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Chicago, said the agency and seven local businesses known as the Ottawa River Group are finalizing details for subcontracts required before construction may begin.

He said he should be able to provide a clearer picture of the project's timetable on Nov. 12 during the Maumee Remedial Action Plan summit at Walbridge Park.

Originally, workers were expected to mobilize along the riverbank in mid-July. The start was pushed back until mid-October because of delays in government bidding procedures.

The bulk of the restoration work will consist of digging out contaminated sediment from the river's bottom.

The dredging - unprecedented for northwest Ohio and one of the largest of its kind in Great Lakes history - is for environmental purposes, not boating. Clamshell-like scooping will be done below the river's surface, meaning that the public won't see most of the mechanical activity.

It was not known if the latest delay will keep the project from getting back on schedule. Completion had been projected by the end of 2010.

The Ottawa, named after the Indian tribe that lived along the river, has long been considered by state and federal environmental officials as Ohio's most polluted waterway.

For years, signs posted by the Ohio Department of Health have warned against fishing on the river or making contact with the water.

Plans call for digging up more than 275,000 cubic yards of sediment.

About 95 percent of it - or 260,000 cubic yards - will go into the city of Toledo's Hoffman Road landfill.

That's roughly enough silt to use up a year of the dump's capacity.

About 5 percent of the material, or 15,000 cubic yards of sediment, is believed to be so contaminated by cancer-causing PCBs and other pollutants that it will be sent to specialized landfills.

Dredging makes rivers more turbid in the short term, increasing pollutant levels with suspended sediment.

The federal EPA has said fish and other wildlife are not likely to show signs of recovery for two to three years.

Toledo offered the landfill space in lieu of $4 million in cash it was obligated to commit to the project. A year of Hoffman Road landfill space is currently valued at about $5.6 million.

The Ottawa River Group put together a proposal to address longstanding pollution in the riverbed after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated legal action against it and 13 other companies in 2004.

The companies included Chrysler LLC, DuPont, Allied Waste North America, GenCorp. Inc., Honeywell Inc., Illinois Tool Works Inc., and United Technologies Corp.

The federal share is coming from funds appropriated by Congress through the Great Lakes Legacy Act. The act provides money for restoring Great Lakes rivers and harbors that contain polluted sediment.

The Toledo project is modeled after a larger one in Ashtabula, Ohio, in the northeast quadrant of the state.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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