History may show that a brainstorming session Thursday was the first step toward reversing years of litigation and accomplishing a longtime goal of several Great Lakes gov-ernors, state environmental directors, and fishery biologists: End open-lake dumping of material dredged from Toledo's shipping channel.
"Today we're not going to look back. We're going to look forward," Dave Knight, special projects manager of the Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission, said as 75 people from a cross-section of interests gathered for the first major push to seek alternatives at the Toledo Maritime Center in East Toledo.
Those include anything from making construction materials to using the silt for landfill cover, shoreline barrier, fill for abandoned mines or industrial brownfield sites, or additional layers of farm soil.
Logistics of transport and costs remain big obstacles. But that's where a multi-agency task force trying to phase out the long-standing silt problem comes in. Once it gets a final report next May on what the public wants, it will likely create financial incentives for private entrepreneurs to do such projects or see what can be done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to John Hull, principal of the Toledo-based Hull & Associates Inc. engineering firm, and another one of Thursday's facilitators.
The report will be based on ideas generated by Thursday's meeting and a follow-up expected to be held this fall, as well as comments the Ohio Lake Erie Commission receives along the way, Mr. Hull said.
"We know new approaches are necessary and it's probably going to require a combination of long-term and short-term projects," he said.
New federal money for such projects is available. But officials were inspired by a project in Cleveland, when tons of dredged sediment was removed from a confined disposal facility near Burke Lakefront Airport, Mr. Hull said. It was used as fill for a brownfield redevelopment project in the Flats called the Cuyahoga Valley Industrial Center.
The layman might have a hard time fathoming how much silt gets dredged each summer from the Port of Toledo, the Great Lakes region's most heavily dredged port. Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was allowed to dig up 850,000 cubic yards, enough to fill the 411-foot-tall One Seagate Center 2.2 times, according to Ed Hammett, Ohio Lake Erie Commission Office executive director.
This year, the Corps said it needs Ohio Environmental Protection Agency authorization to dredge up to 1.25 million cubic yards, enough to fill that same downtown skyscraper 3.3 times, he said.
The soil comes mostly from what gets blown or washed off farms in rural areas along the Maumee River.
The dredging needs to occur to keep the seven-mile Toledo shipping channel open. It is the shallowest part of the Great Lakes shipping channel. The Port of Toledo is vital not only to Toledo's economy but also that of the Great Lakes region, Joseph Cappel, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority director of cargo development, said.
Closing it is not an option. Neither is continuing indefinitely on the 25-year-old policy of dumping all but the worst silt back into the lake. The most polluted sediment is buried in a confined disposal facility, essentially a waterfront landfill. But the only one taking sediment in the area, near Oregon, is nearly full. Many agree the cost of building one is prohibitive: More than $200 million, with at least 35 percent of the cost from nonfederal sources.
Since the mid 1980s, nearly all dredged material has been redeposited in Maumee Bay, causing prob-lems with the region's $7 billion fishery by making water too murky near prime spawning grounds.
Lake Erie generates about $10.7 billion of tourism and supports 119,000 jobs. The fishing industry has a $1 billion impact on Ohio's economy, and 3 million Ohioans rely on Lake Erie for drinking water, Mr. Hammett said.
Contact Tom Henry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6079.