Ohio has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their plan to place dredge material from Cleveland Harbor, which includes six miles of the Cuyahoga River, in Lake Erie or not dredge the entire navigation channel unless a non-federal partner pays to place it in confined disposal facilities.
This year, as they did a year ago, the Corps proposed openly dumping the heavily contaminated dredged material into Lake Erie, which is the cheapest option for the federal government. The state is concerned that the dumping will increase levels of carcinogenic toxins (PCBs). PCBs stay in fat tissue and build up in fish and people as the toxins move up the food chain.
Increased toxic PCB levels in Lake Erie fish have already led to consumption advisories and any additional accumulation could lead to a significant crisis for Lake Erie anglers.
Currently the Corps says it will not dredge the last mile of a six-mile stretch of the Cleveland Harbor channel that contains heavily contaminated sediment unless a non-federal partner agrees to pay the more than $1 million cost of confined disposal, even though Congress has appropriated funds to the Corps to fully cover those costs.
“The Corps’ decision attempts to force the state to use its resources to pay for costs the federal government should cover, to accept the severe economic distress to Cleveland and all of Ohio if the Corps refuses to dredge this area, or allow the Corps to endanger Lake Erie further by dumping these toxins,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “We filed this lawsuit because this decision by the Corps is wrong for the health of Lake Erie, wrong for the economy of Cleveland, and wrong for the taxpayers of Ohio.”
The state’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. It alleges that the Corps has committed several violations regarding its 2015 dredging proposal, including:
– Violating the Clean Water Act;
– Failing to prepare an environmental impact statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act;
– Violating the Coastal Zone Management Act;
– Violating the Corps’ own rule called The Federal Standard;
– Violating the Corps’ statutory requirement to maintain the navigability of Great Lakes harbors; and
– Unlawfully delegating its authority to maintain navigable waters to a non-federal partner.
In the lawsuit, the state asks the court to order the Corps to dredge the full Cleveland Harbor federal channel without disposing of any dredge material into the open waters of Lake Erie for its 2015 dredging project and to prohibit the Corps from requiring a non-federal sponsor to pay for disposal into a confined disposal facility.