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State Asks Federal Judge to Again Force U.S. Army Corps to Dredge Cuyahoga River Shipping Channel

Posted on July 12, 2016

By Eric Heisig,

The state of Ohio and the Cuyahoga County Port Authority have asked a federal judge to again force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fully dredge the Cleveland Harbor and Cuyahoga River shipping channel, arguing that the Corps is still proposing the dumping of harmful sediment into Lake Erie.

The motion, filed late Wednesday by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and attorneys for the port authority, says that the Corps, as it did in 2015, is demanding that a “non-federal sponsor” pay to dump the dredging material into a disposal facility.

Army officials won’t give a cost differentiation between dumping into the lake and a facility, the motion says. Moreover, they went a step farther and were able to secure a $3.6 million reduction in the federal budget allocation for the Cleveland dredging product.

Attorneys write that the budget reduction request “is an apparent subterfuge to circumvent this Court’s ruling.”

The request is just the latest in a dispute between the Corps and the Port of Cleveland over the dredging of the shipping channel. The state filed a lawsuit against the Corps last year over the Corps’ refusal to dredge.

Most important is what is known as the “sixth mile” of the shipping channel, which serves ArcelorMittal’s steel mill and contains the bulk of the sediment that needs dredging.

The motion says delays in dredging can seriously harm the business.

The Corps has argued that dumping the sediment in Lake Erie is safe and cost-effective. The state and the port say the sediment is polluted and will harm the lake.

U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent in May 2015 ordered the Corps to fully dredge the harbor that year. Using an occasionally scathing tone, the judge implied that the Corps was trying to blackmail the state into footing the bill of dumping it into a facility.

A federal judge said Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers must fully dredge the Cleveland Harbor and Cuyahoga River shipping channel, writing that the Corps’ refusal to do so is unreasonable and implying that it is trying to blackmail the state of Ohio into footing the bill.

Wednesday’s motion says that Nugent “went on to hold that the Corps could not hold Cleveland Harbor hostage for financial contributions for the Corps’ environmental obligations. Yet one year later, in a familiar refrain, the Corps is again doing just that.”

It says that little has changed in the past year. It says that northeast Ohio’s mild winter and high water levels in Lake Erie have allowed for a delay in dredging this year. That said, the dredging still needs to occur.

“A single severe summer storm this year could make the channel unnavigable,” the motion says.

A spokesman for the Corps says it does not comment on pending litigation.

The U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Republican Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, is investigating the actions Army officials took to cut the budget for the Cleveland dredging project.

And an appropriations bill the Senate passed in May included a provision banning the Corps from dumping dredged sediment into Lake Erie.


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