Environment News Service (ENS)

$50 Million Cleanup of Ashtabula River Sediment Begins

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

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ASHTABULA, Ohio , June 5, 2006 (ENS) - Crews have begun to remove contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Ashtabula River, and today federal, state and local offficials gathered in the city of Ashtabula to officially kick off the three year, $50 million project.

From the 1940s through the late 1970s, discharges of contaminants from industries throughout the river's 137 square mile drainage basin settled in the mud along the river's last two miles. In addition to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the river bottom is polluted with low-level radioactive material, heavy metals and other chemicals.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson joined Ohio Governor Bob Taft, U.S. Congressman Steven LaTourette, other government officials and local partners to celebrate the start of cleanup along a one mile stretch of the river bottom.

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The 5th Street Bridge looking upstream, or southeast, on the Ashtabula River. The 5th Street Bridge serves as the boundary of the Ashtabula River Great Lakes Legacy Act Project. (Photo courtesy EPA)
'This is such an important day for the community, and one that was a long time coming,' said Congressman LaTourette, an Ohio Republican. 'I've been working with local officials, the Ashtabula River Partnership and the EPA for 12 years, and the effort even predates my time in Congress. A lot of people were very patient, and a lot of people never gave up hope that this day would come. Our long-awaited reward will be a vibrant and clean Ashtabula Harbor.'

The Ashtabula River flows into Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes that together contain one-fifth of the Earth's freshwaaaaaa. The cleanup project is the first to be carried out in Ohio under the Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2002, which provides for cleanup of 31 toxic hot spots known as 'areas of concern' around the Great Lakes.

The cleanup plan involves dredging the sediment and pumping it through a three mile long pipeline to a disposal facility near State Road and the upper reaches of Fields Brook, a stream that flows into the Ashtabula River. There is concentrated industrial development around Fields Brook and east of the river mouth.

Workers will remove about 500,000 cubic yards, or 12.5 tons, of contaminated sediment and provide new habitat in the river. In the process, the river will be deepened, allowing for the return of commercial navigation.

The Ashtabula means 'river of many fish' in the Iroquois language. Some species of fish still live there but PCB pollution caused the Ohio Department of Public Health in 1997 to post warning signs to advise limiting consumption of fish caught from the river.

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The Ashtabula River cleanup will be conducted in the area outlined in red. (Photo courtesy EPA )
The goal of this Legacy Act cleanup is to reduce contamination to safe levels so fish consumption warnings will no longer be necessary, said Johnson. 'Just like a father handing down the skills of tying a fishing lure, EPA and our partners are determined to hand down a cleaner, healthier river to the next generation of Ashtabula anglers.'

Costs are being split evenly by EPA and the Ashtabula City Port Authority and its partners. The state of Ohio is providing $7 million as part of the Port Authority's cost share.

'The state of Ohio is proud to invest $7 million to help match the federal investment and advance the cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes,' said Governor Taft.

The work is being done in close cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is scheduled for completion in 2008. The Corps will also conduct navigation dredging downstream of the project area and will complete its work in 2009.

'Removing contaminated sediments under the Legacy Act combined with our expanded navigation dredging will provide immense ecological benefits to the Ashtabula River and Lake Erie,' said Corps of Engineers Brigadier General Bruce Berwick.

'These actions will also provide substantial economic benefits, assuring the future for the Port of Ashtabula, which moves more than 10 million tons of coal annually and ranks among the top 50 busiest ports in the country and the top 10 on the Great Lakes.'

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An excavator does preliminary clearing in the landfill that will contain the contaminated sediment permanently. (Photo courtesy EPA)
'This important project is a win-win not only for the community of Ashtabula, but for all inhabitants downstream as well,' said Fred Leitert, co-chairman of the Coordinating Committee of the Ashtabula Partnership. 'We are looking forward with great enthusiasm and appreciation to this important day.'

Contaminated sediment is one of the major reasons many Great Lakes fish are not safe to eat in unlimited quantities. It also harms aquatic habitat and pollutes sources of drinking water. This has been a long-term and persistent problem throughout the entire Great Lakes basin. There are still millions of cubic yards of contaminated sediment to be removed from the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act authorizes $270 million in funding over five years for cleanups of contaminated sediment hot spots. Three earlier Legacy Act cleanups have addressed smaller hot spots.

In 2004, the first year funds were available, Congress appropriated $9.9 million.

In 2005, Congress appropriated $22.3 million, and $29.6 million is available this year.

Cleanups of Black Lagoon, an inlet of the Detroit River in Trenton, Michigan, as well as Newton Creek/Hog Island Inlet in Superior, Wisconsin, were completed last year.

Another project at Ruddiman Creek in Muskegon, Michigan, was finished last month and more projects are expected.

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