Army Corps’ proposals threaten future of Point PlaceWritten by Mary Petrides and Betsy Woodruff | | email@example.com
Gary Anderson used to bring his daughter to Cullen Park almost every week. They’d get ice cream and she’d fall asleep in the car.
Now he brings his granddaughter, Olivia, who just turned 3.
“With Olivia, the tradition has continued,” Anderson said.
Anderson is president of Point Place Business Association (PPBA), and like many local residents, he is concerned about the future of the park.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently proposed creating wetlands stretching across Maumee Bay from Cullen Park past the Summit Street lighthouse, totaling about 65 acres.
“There’s no reason in the world why they should take a beautiful place like the bay by Summit Street and totally obliterate it with wetlands,” said Bob Kneisley, past president of PPBA and member of Visions for Cullen Park.
About 200 Point Place residents attended a June 29 meeting where Craig Forgette, Corps project manager, explained the proposals.
Howard Pinkley, unofficially dubbed “Mayor of Point Place,” summarized the attendees’ responses to the wetlands proposal.
“We had a big meeting here the other day. Three of them said they were for it and the rest of them said, ‘Hell, no, get lost’,” he said.
“Nobody is against wetlands,” said Vee Stader, founder of Visions for Cullen Park. “We just don’t want it here.”
Kneisley said he has been attending dredging meetings for about five years. Sometime between June 8 and 15, he and Anderson saw a map depicting the Army Corps’ proposal to turn the water by Cullen Park into wetlands using dredged materials.
Kneisley brought the wetlands proposals to PPBA, then called Forgette, asking the project team to come to Point Place and have a meeting with residents.
“I called as soon as I got wind of the fact that they were going to put dredged material into the bay. I called and said I would like to have an urgent meeting with them,” Kneisley said.
Forgette suggested coming in the fall. Kneisley asked for an earlier meeting, and they agreed on June 29.
The project would create wetlands using sediment dredged from the Toledo Harbor shipping channel. Part of the causeway would be removed and stone dikes would rise about 8 feet out of the water, reducing the strength of incoming waves and providing a habitat for fish.
Many Point Place residents said the dikes would block the view of the bay.
“To have that type of view, where else can you go?” Anderson said. “And we have it right in our backyard. It’s a beautiful, beautiful sight,” he said.
Forgette said the dikes wouldn’t block the view.
“The wall will look like a line in the water, and you’ll be able to see over it, and you’ll be able to see in front of it,” he said.
Rich Ruby, a biologist for the Corps, said the top of the dikes would be lower than the existing shoreline and might improve the view. Trees and other plants could grow on the dikes, blocking the sight of smokestacks across the bay.
Point Place residents also expressed concern that the wetlands would threaten eagles nesting near the bay and encourage growth of tall invasive plants that would block part of the view of the bay.
These plants, common in the Great Lakes, have become a problem near Cullen Park in the past few years.
Forgette said the Corps recognizes this problem.
“We will develop an invasive species control plan that will help us control these plants as part of the project,” he said.
Ruby said the project wouldn’t harm eagles.
“We’re as concerned as anybody else would be,” Ruby said. “We don’t have to impact our national bird.”
Many Point Place residents remain unconvinced.
“The beauty of the view would be compromised,” Stader said.
“They have not come out and said why they want to do this so bad,” said Gene Kidd, chairman of Visions for Cullen Park.
Visions for Cullen Park, which consists of approximately 30 Point Place residents, has been discussing repairing the boat launch and adding benches, a pavilion, signs, restrooms, a beach and a memorial.
The committee plans to meet again in three weeks, and Stader said it hopes to have its proposal ready to take before Toledo City Council by then.
“We’re forging ahead,” Stader said. “They don’t have the funding for it anyway.”
In the past five years, the Corps has been considering about a dozen locations around Lake Erie as possible sites for the wetlands construction using dredged sediment, Forgette said. It began looking at Cullen Park about six months ago, he said.
Federal money could fund 65 percent of the project, but the Corps cannot pursue it without a nonfederal sponsor to provide the remaining 35 percent. Forgette said the greatest challenge would be finding a nonfederal sponsor.
The Corps project team will meet with a small group, probably Anderson, Kneisley and Stader, in late August, Kneisley said.
Stader said she hopes the Corps does not pursue the Cullen Park proposal.
“If this goes in, we’re sunk,” she said.
Point Place residents face controversy over dike renovations
A push to improve the dike in Point Place might pit residents against each other with what City Councilwoman Lindsay Webb described as an “us versus them” attitude.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers examined the dike in 2009 and concluded that it does not sufficiently protect the area, placing the dike in inactive status. As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) began a 24-month de-accreditation process. If the dike loses its accreditation, homeowners in the area that it protects will have to buy flood insurance, which would cost about $1,000 a year, said Dale Rupert, a project engineer for the City of Toledo. Because the Corps declared the dike inactive, residents may not receive federal disaster assistance if a dike failure occurs.
As part of the process of gaining FEMA and the Corps’ approval of the dike, the Point Place residents who live next to it — about 200 of them — must remove the plants, fence posts, pavilions, swimming pools, decks and other encroachments they put on it.
Many of them would rather have the whole group pay for flood insurance than remove what they or their homes’ previous owners put on the dike, Webb said.
At a meeting in Point Place on July 26, many of these homeowners expressed displeasure and called for a vote on whether to bring the dike up to standard.
Webb said this issue will not be decided by a vote.
About 1,200 homeowners live in the area protected by the dike, but do not live directly next to it. They would not have to go to any extra trouble to bring the dike up to standard.
City Council committed $900,000 to help pay to improve the dike. Webb said she hopes Council will commit another $400,000 next year, totaling $1.3 million. If the project costs more than that, homeowners will be appraised based on the square footage of their houses. Webb said this amount should not exceed an annual bill of $100 per home for 10 years. Webb said if homeowners have to buy flood insurance, the values of their homes will go down, decreasing homeownership in Point Place and increasing the number of renters.
“When homeownership rates decline, neighborhoods decline,” she said.
Howard Pinkley, known as the “Mayor of Point Place,” said he thinks the dike’s improvement is unnecessary for the protection of the area.
“The Corps of Engineers think they’re God, that nobody can touch them,” he said.
Dredging creates ‘open lake disposal’ problem
Ohio’s leaders face a daunting decision: jeopardize the region’s economy, spend hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve an environmental resource or risk significantly damaging Lake Erie.
This problem exists because the Toledo Harbor shipping channel must be dredged annually. Without dredging, the channel would fill with sediment and become impassable, and the port would close.
If the port closed, longshoremen, shipyard workers, truck drivers and rail yard workers who deliver and pick up goods from seaport terminals would lose their jobs.
Many others would be hurt as well.
“It would be farmers that grow crops that ship through Toledo’s grain terminal,” said Joe Cappel, director of cargo development at the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “It would be steel workers that rely on the iron ore that comes through Toledo to make their goods. It would be consumers of electricity that rely on coal delivered to the port.”
If the port closed, the impact would be global, Cappel said.
All the industries that rely on the port for shipping, including the automotive industry, construction, refineries, grain traders, steel companies, manufacturers and electric utility companies would suffer.
“That would impact thousands of jobs, and the economic impact of that is multimillion dollars,” Cappel said.
Because the region’s economy relies on the shipping channel, Ohio’s leaders must risk the environmental stability of Lake Erie or spend huge sums of money to preserve it.
‘It’s just dirt, you know’
The problem is rooted in rich Midwestern farmland. Every year between 1.2 and 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt — much from Ohio and Indiana corn and soybean farms — washes into the Maumee River. Between 800,000 and 1 million cubic yards settle in the shipping channel, said John Watkins, the chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s (ODNR) Office of Coastal Management.
That annual amount of sediment could fill the Downtown Toledo Fifth Third building twice, then a third time up to the seventh floor.
More sediment enters the Great Lakes from the Maumee River than from any other tributary, said Craig Forgette, the Great Lakes Regional sediment program manager with the Army Corps of Engineers.
To keep the shipping channel navigable, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dredged it annually for about 100 years, Forgette said.
Nearly all the dredged sediment gets dumped in the Western Basin of Lake Erie, a practice called open lake disposal.
That’s where the controversy begins. Local environmental groups, Toledo City Council, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ODNR believe that open lake disposal must stop. They cite environmental concerns and the increased cost of cleaning Toledo’s drinking water among their reasons for opposing the practice.
Finding an alternative to open lake disposal presents an expensive, time-consuming challenge.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not believe open lake disposal of sediment dredged from the shipping channel significantly hurts Lake Erie. An Army Corps study, published in 2009, concluded that dumping dredged sediment in the lake does not significantly impact the environment.
“It’s just dirt, you know, but it can get very complicated,” Cappel said.
‘This is not a natural phenomenon’
The Ohio EPA and ODNR oppose open lake disposal in part because they believe it contributes to Lake Erie’s algae problem.
Lake Erie has had algae problems for decades. In unnaturally large quantities, blue-green algae can make the water toxic, cause rashes on some people and raise the cost of purifying the water for drinking. Dead algae sink to the bottom of the lake and decay, using oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.
Jeff Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program and Stone Laboratory at The Ohio State University, said the blue-green algae releases a toxin called microcystin. The levels of this toxin in Lake Erie are 60 times what the World Health Organization recommends, he said.
Another species of algae grows in mats on the bottom of Lake Erie. These mats can break free and float to shore, clogging swimming areas, marinas and shorelines.
Algae growth in Lake Erie peaked in the 1970s. Measures were taken to control the problem and algae levels decreased. In the mid-’90s, however, the algae problem began to worsen and is almost as bad as in the ’70s, said Thomas Bridgeman, UT associate professor of ecology. He said the past two years have been especially bad and scientists are not sure why.
Bridgeman said runoff from farms probably causes the increased growth in algae. Natural and chemical fertilizers contain high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, which encourage growth of crops — and algae.
“Right now, there’s not a really strong scientific connection between dredged sediment and the algae,” Bridgeman said. “There might be, but we just don’t know for sure.”
There are differing opinions on whether putting sediment in Lake Erie is increasing the algae problem. The ODNR believes open lake disposal is making the algae problem worse, said Mike Shelton, chief of external affairs.
“I don’t think we have hard data indicating that the sedimentation is causing those impacts, but certainly dumping sedimentation into the lake is not natural and it’s going to have some kind of adverse impact,” he said.
Increased algae growth is not the only problem open lake disposal causes, Shelton said. Sediment takes a long time to settle, making the water cloudy. This makes it difficult for fish to find food.
Scott Pickard, an ecologist for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the Corps does not think this is a problem. The majority of the sediment settles in minutes, and the rest of it settles within two hours, he said.
Some of Toledo’s leaders disagree.
“Studies have shown that 25 percent of dredged material placed in the open lake can remain suspended in the water column for up to 24 hours,” according to a Jan. 29 letter to the Ohio EPA from Mayor Michael Bell and Tom Crothers, director of Toledo’s Department of Public Utilities.
The Ohio EPA agrees with the ODNR, said Dina Pierce, EPA spokeswoman.
“What we want to see is an end to open lake disposal,” she said. “We’ve been on the record for quite a while saying that.”
In an April 15 news release, Ohio EPA director Chris Korleski said, “While I certainly feel compelled to keep the port functioning, I cannot overstate my concerns about the environmental impacts likely resulting from the annual disposal of large amounts of sediment in the shallow western basin of Lake Erie.”
When the Army Corps applied for a permit to dispose of sediment in Lake Erie this year, as it does every year, it requested certification to put up to 1.25 million cubic yards of sediment from the Toledo Harbor into Lake Erie every year for the next three years. Instead, the Ohio EPA allowed the Army Corps to deposit up to 800,000 cubic yards next year. After that, the Army Corps will have to apply again for certification.
Pierce said the Ohio EPA did this to pressure the Corps to find a practical alternative to open lake disposal.
In an April 15 letter to Lt. Col. Daniel B. Snead, the district commander of the Buffalo District of the Army Corps of Engineers, the directors of the Ohio EPA and ODNR said they are convinced open lake disposal of such a “huge” amount of sediment damages Lake Erie.
“This has been our position for many years now,” they wrote, “and despite innumerable meetings, discussions, plans, Memorandums of Understanding, etc., no real progress on this issue has been achieved … We cannot state our belief any more clearly: Open lake disposal of these huge quantities of dredged sediment in the Western Basin of Lake Erie is not environmentally acceptable to the State of Ohio and needs to be discontinued.”
Several groups, including the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association, are so opposed to the Corps’ disposal of dredged sediment in Lake Erie that they have appealed the Ohio EPA’s decision to allow any open lake disposal this year. The Environmental Review Appeals Commission will hear the appeal in August, Watkins said.
Toledo City Council also opposes open lake disposal. It unanimously adopted a Jan. 19 resolution calling to “minimize open lake dumping to the greatest extent possible.”
The resolution stated, “Open lake dumping by its nature degrades water quality and impacts the raw water that enters the City of Toledo and Oregon water intakes by increasing turbidity and other sediment nutrients.”
Tim Murphy, Toledo’s commissioner of the division of environmental services, said the council has passed a similar resolution annually for several years.
The hunt for alternatives
Murphy said finding a permanent solution to the problem of sediment disposal will be difficult.
The Corps is considering several projects that would use dredged sediment to build wildlife habitats and wetlands. Among the proposed projects is a roughly 65-acre wetlands area in Maumee Bay, bordering Cullen Park in Point Place. The Corps met nearly unanimous disapproval at a public meeting June 29 in Point Place. About 200 people attended the meeting.
Members of the Army Corps of Engineers project team said the proposed Cullen Park project is not intended as an alternative to open lake disposal. The project would use about half of one year’s worth of sediment.
“While we pursue small ecosystem restoration projects for the short term, we continue to look for larger scale projects that can use between 10 and 20 years of dredged material and provide large-scale ecosystem restoration benefits,” Forgette said in a July 16 e-mail to Toledo Free Press.
The Corps is considering another project in Toledo that would use 15 years’ worth of sediment. It would cost about $300 million, roughly $20 million per year. Murphy said he does not think this is an adequate solution.
“Fifteen years go by, we’re having the same discussion again. It’s probably going to be a lot more expensive then. Fifteen years isn’t that long, really,” Murphy said.
He said there should be limits on how much sediment enters the Maumee River.
“Right now, you’re asking the Point Place community, the Toledo community, to deal with the sediment that didn’t come from an urban community like Toledo,” Murphy said. “The majority of Toledo is pavement; our 80 square acres of land is not contributing a significant amount of sediment to the Maumee River, yet we’re being asked to address it down here just because we happen to be where the port is, we’re at the mouth. It’s kind of unfair.”