On May 11, 2016, nearly two hundred public employees and members of the business community gathered at Lorain County Community College to help the Ohio EPA explore ways to repurpose material dredged from Lake Erie’s harbors. The “Dredged Material: Make It Your Business – Digging up Ideas Workshop” included brainstorming sessions where participants debated new ideas for using dredged material and overcoming the financial, technical, and regulatory obstacles to such use.

Each year, 1.5 million cubic yards of material is dredged from the federal navigation channels along Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline to allow the movement of commodities and vessels. Historically, dredged material, which is typically comprised of loose sand, clay, silt and soil particles, was treated as a waste and either disposed of in a specialized landfill or dumped in the open waters of Lake Erie. Due to the passage of Ohio Senate Bill 1 in 2015, however, open-lake disposal will be prohibited after July 1, 2020. This gives the Ohio EPA less than five years to find alternative environmentally-friendly ways to use, recycle, or otherwise dispose of the material.

At the May 11, 2016 workshop, Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler’s opening remarks made clear that protecting Lake Erie from contamination and over-sedimentation is a priority, but that finding alternate uses for dredged sediment poses a unique challenge. Governments and businesses already use the material for beach/near shore nourishment, habitat creation or restoration, landscaping, road construction, landfill cover, and brownfield and other land reclamation. Other industrial uses include making useful products such as topsoil, concrete and concrete-based goods, brick, block and other construction materials. The challenge is to find additional productive and economically beneficial ways to use the material.

The Ohio EPA is developing a regulatory program which is expected to include a business-friendly permitting process and incentives to encourage the use of dredged material. Once issued, the proposed rules will be subject to formal public comments and a hearing before being finalized. Interested parties are encouraged to participate in the rulemaking process.

As part of the State’s push to develop innovative uses for dredged sediment, grant money is being offered by the Ohio Lake Erie Commission for projects that develop business models for utilizing dredged material, removing economic barriers to such use, increasing public awareness and acceptance of the value and/or potential uses of dredged material, or developing processes for intercepting and capturing sediment to minimize the need for dredging. Grant applications must be submitted by June 10, 2016. If you would like further information regarding this funding opportunity or the use of dredged materials as a potential low cost substitute for fill material in construction projects or other applications, please contact Leslie G. Wolfe at (216) 928-2927 or lwolfe@walterhav.com.

You can read more about the Ohio EPA’s Lake Erie Dredged Material Program here.