The Corps of Engineers Buffalo District began dredging Cleveland Harbor May 22 after a federal judge issued an order on May 12 requiring it to dredge all of a disputed area. The district had been refusing to do so unless the state contributed to the cost of disposing of some dredged materials.
The order is the latest move in a dispute between the Corps and Cuyahoga River interests that has simmered for months.
The area in dispute known as the Cleveland Harbor Federal Navigational Channel (or more briefly Cleveland Harbor) includes 5.8 miles of the Lower Cuyahoga River and 5.5 miles of Lake Erie shoreline enclosed by a breakwater. The Corps is authorized by Congress to dredge the entire area annually and is allocated funds to dispose of the dredged material.
One facility served by the Cuyahoga is ArcelorMittal Cleveland one of the world’s largest and most productive steel mills which employs about 1900 people and produces about 3.8 million tons of steel annually.
According to the summary of events in the ruling issued by Judge Donald Nugent of the Northern District of Ohio the dispute began when the Corps in an analysis of sediments concluded that some of it from the river channel could be safely disposed of in special areas of Lake Erie at a site owned by the state of Ohio rather than in a confined disposal facility (CDF).
The state disagreed and included in its permit a requirement that all dredged materials be placed in a CDF.
Nugent wrote “Rather than appeal or otherwise challenge the disposal requirements contained in the water quality certification issued by the state the Corps declared that it would not bear the cost of CDF disposal for the channel sediment. Therefore it gave the State an ultimatum: either find a way to pay for the CDF disposal for the channel sediment with nonfederal money or the Corps will not dredge that section of Cleveland Harbor.”
In a February 12 posting on the Buffalo Engineer District’s website its district commander Karl Jansen claimed that disposing of the dredged material the way the state wanted “costs an estimated $1.5 million more than is allowed for federal investment and requires a nonfederal partner to contribute this difference.”
He added “Lately this strategy has become less certain because it appears there are not partners willing to cover these costs.”
Failure to dredge the entire river channel could have threatened barge service for the ArcelorMittal plant. Some thought that plant had been targeted by the district since its report called for dredged material to be placed in a CDF only for the lower five miles; the steel plant sits at Mile 6.
The state of Ohio filed suit but also set aside $1.135 million to place the dredged material in an “environmentally friendly” CDF.
In granting the state’s request for an injunction Nugent had to determine that it was likely to win on the merits of the case.