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Army Corps of Engineers’ Serially Mistaken Cuyahoga River Dredge Approach: Editorial

Cuyahoga River dredge

Posted on September 26, 2016

By Editorial Board,

The bureaucratic mulishness of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in refusing to dredge the Cuyahoga River — as required not just by congressional directives but also by the needs of major Cleveland employers who rely on the river for essential cargo — must end.

The Corps’ shortsighted and economically damaging position keeps driving up taxpayer costs – this week forcing Ohio and Cleveland port officials to file a second lawsuit as part of an ongoing federal court battle in Cleveland.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office on Monday filed a new lawsuit asking a federal judge to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Cleveland Harbor and Cuyahoga River shipping channel this year, after the judge refused their request on technical grounds.

Fortunately, U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent signaled in a Sept. 12 order that he’s prepared to consolidate claims as needed to speed this case to a prompt conclusion. Good.

The Corps’ refusal to dredge the river already has had economic consequences. Throughout August and so far in September, ships “are light loading by nearly 20%” and “only able to fully traverse the Upper Cuyahoga Navigation Channel by plowing their keels through the shoaled sediments in portions of the Channel,” the lawsuit states.

So much for the Corps’ assertion that low rains and and high lake levels had eliminated the need to dredge, at least so far this year.

The truth is that the Corps refuses to dredge because it hasn’t been able to strong-arm Ohio into allowing it to dump tainted river dredge directly into Lake Erie to save money on containing PCBs and other potentially carcinogenic toxins.

“The Corps’ position again forces Ohio into a Catch-22 where it must choose between two unjust options,” states Monday’s lawsuit: “either 1) submitting to the Corps’ unlawful demand for money [to pay for safer dredge-disposal options]. . . or 2) passively accepting the severe economic distress that will befall local industry, the Port, the City of Cleveland, and the State of Ohio when the Corps allows the Cleveland Harbor to become unnavigable.”

This is so wrong it’s shocking that the White House hasn’t stepped in to overrule.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manipulates Congress and its own budget and provokes a costly court fight trying to force Ohio to let it dispose of toxic Cuyahoga River dredge in Lake Erie, the buck stops in the Oval Office, the editorial board writes.

The river channel is “the lifeline for one of the most productive steel mills in the world and a major engine of the Cleveland and Ohio economies,” said officials of ArcelorMittal USA’s Cleveland steel mill last year.

The Corps of Engineers has been serially wrong in threatening to throttle that lifeline to get its way on dredge disposal. If it, or its federal bosses, don’t recognize that soon, the courts may — and, we hope, will — provide the needed course correction.


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