The federal agency that maintains shipping channels along Lake Erie will keep open Cleveland’s harbor this year after reaching an agreement with Ohio’s environmental regulators in a long-running dispute over costs.
The deal calls for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Cleveland shipping channel, where cargo ships have been forced to lighten loads because of accumulated sediment.
Either the Corps or the state will pay the additional disposal costs once a lawsuit between the two is decided, according to the agreement announced late Wednesday.
The Corps and Ohio’s environmental agency have been locked in a yearlong legal battle over where the sediment can be disposed and who should pay for it.
Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency says the sediment is loaded with PCBs — a chemical linked to cancer — and is a threat to water quality and fish. The Corps says the sediment is clean now and it would be much cheaper to dispose of it in the open waters of Lake Erie.
The Corps said in a statement Wednesday that it stands behind its science that says the sediment from the Cuyahoga River is suitable for open-lake disposal. The state says it used methods approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to determine that the chemicals within the sediment posed too much of a risk.
The Ohio EPA sued the federal agency last year after it threatened to stop dredging until Ohio paid $1.4 million to put the material in a containment facility. A federal judge ordered the dredging to continue, but the lawsuit over who pays is still to be decided.
Environmental regulators have long sought to end dumping of dredged sediment throughout the lake.
Congress approved a bill at the end of 2015 that included a stipulation preventing the Corps from dumping hazardous dredged material in the lake without meeting requirements set by the state.