Posted on February 10, 2021
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Buffalo District is looking at ways to use dredged material from Fairport Harbor’s federal navigational channel for ecosystem restoration projects.
One idea that the Army Corps is researching is to take dredged material and make it a component in an artificial reef. This underwater structure would be placed off the Fairport Harbor shoreline, in Lake Erie, to benefit fish habitat.
“The reef… is something that’s a novel concept, it’s a new concept in the Great Lakes to use dredged material to do some habitat restoration for fishery habitat,” said Tim Noon, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District. “So that would really be something kind of new and exciting that we’re trying to pin down and determine the feasibility of right now.”
Another option being explored would be to use dredged material to enhance or create wetlands in Fairport Harbor.
Funding for either of those projects would come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Continuing Authorities Program. Commonly referred to as CAP, this initiative encompasses nine sections of federal acts that give the Army Corps authority to “plan, design, and implement certain types of water resources projects without additional project-specific congressional authorization.”
The proposed ecosystem restoration endeavors in Fairport Harbor are classified as a CAP 204 project. The numeral refers to Section 204 of the Water Restoration Development Act of 1992, which allows the Army Corps to make beneficial use of dredged material for ecosystem restoration.
At this point, the Cap 204 project in Fairport Harbor is in the feasibility phase, Noon said.
He added that there are complexities involved in planning and launching the project.
“For one, we have to complete that determination of which alternatives may be feasible in Fairport Harbor, then we have to design it in partnership with state and local stakeholders, including the Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority,” Noon said. “Then we have to sync up with the dredge cycle, because the project relies on that dredged material.”
For many years, material dredged from harbors along Ohio’s northern shore were dumped into the open waters of Lake Erie. But Ohio Senate Bill 1 mandated that no more open-lake dumping of material dredged from waterways could take place after July 1, 2020.
As a result, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has been promoting the use of uncontaminated dredged material for purposes such as habitat creation or restoration, landscaping, beach and near shore renourishment and road construction.
The Army Corps has allocated $1.42 million in its fiscal year 2021 work plan for dredging the Fairport Harbor federal navigational channel. That waterway stretches from within the Grand River to just beyond two breakwaters in Lake Erie.
Although it’s anticipated that the channel will be dredged later this year, construction on the Cap 204 project in Fairport Harbor won’t get underway as quickly, Noon said.
“So we’re not actually going to build anything this summer, or even potentially next summer, at this point,” he said.
The Army Corps’ goal would be to complete the feasibility study for the Cap 204 project by early fall.
“Then we would look at sort of design and later construction down the road beyond that,” Noon said.
About 150,000 cubic yards of sediment must be dredged from the harbor every one to two years to provide safe navigation for commercial vessels. Operational dredging last took place in 2019, when about 180,000 cubic yards of sediment material were removed from throughout Fairport Harbor’s navigational channel.
When it comes to constructing an artificial reef , the Army Corps has been considering areas just east of the Fairport Harbor federal navigation channel in Lake Erie. One possible location being studied is adjacent to the submerged breakwater that’s on the far eastern end of Fairport Harbor, Noon said.
There’s been a decline in reproductive habitat in Lake Erie over the years, Noon noted.
“Building a reef would look to sort of boost that habitat type and provide a boost for the native fish of Lake Erie,” he said.
As it conducts activities in the feasibility phase, the Army Corps has been working closely with Lake County, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Noon added.
“I think the main takeaway is that there’s some really interesting alternatives, and some good support at the state and local level to do this project,” he said.