Lake Wars: Dispatch from the Lake Erie Front

Lake Erie off Sandusky, Ohio

Last October, I put the finishing touches on my last salvo ina 6-month legal battle to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from dumping massive amounts of nutrient-laden sediment in Lake Erie in 2010 — up to 800,000 cubic yards of sediment.  
I am still waiting for a decision in the case, but however the battle ends, the war will go on. The Corps has recently asked for permission to dump even more sediment in the lake this year, up to 1,600,000 cubic yards!

The problem with dumping the sediment is that it makes the water muddy, which in turn harms fish and other aquatic life.  It also makes boating and other recreation unpleasant, to say the least.  The sediment is also contaminated with phosphorus, which contributes to the proliferation of algal blooms, which can make people sick or even cause death.

In April 2010, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approved the dredging of the channel leading into Toledo to facilitate shipping.  The agency simultaneously approved dumping the dredged sediment in the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie even though it admits that the dumping is “not environmentally acceptable to the State of Ohio and needs to be discontinued.” 

In May 2010, I appealed Ohio EPA’s approval of the dumping.  I represented NWF and a few Ohio groups, too, including the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association and the Ohio Environmental Council.

At my request, the appellate body, the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission, or “ERAC,” put the case on a rapid schedule.  As a result, a case that normally would have taken at least a year to process took only half that time.  Over a 6-month period, I found witnesses, prepared the case for trial, participated in a 3-day hearing involving seven witnesses, and wrote two post-trial briefs.  Needless to say, I felt like I was in a whirlwind. 

I cannot say when ERAC will issue its decision. Whatever it decides, one side or the other may appeal the decision to the Ohio courts. Stay tuned!

But even if no one appeals, the Corps’ request to repeat its destructive sediment dumping this year means efforts to stop the practice must continue. You have an opportunity to make your voice heard on the Corps’ request at a hearing that will be held by Ohio EPA on March 3, 2011, at 6:30 p.m., at the Toledo City Council chambers, One Government Center, Toledo, Ohio. Please consider attending or submitting written comments!  You may send written comments to Ohio EPA-DSW, Attention: Permits Processing Unit, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, Ohio, 43216-1049.