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Sierra Club endorses environmental dredging: goal is to clean up polluted Ashtabula River

2 January 1999

Source: Baltimore Sun

In an unusual partnership, environmentalists, polluters, local municipalities and the Environmental Protection Agency are working together to clear out the toxic gunk that’s clogging the Ashtabula River near Lake Erie.

Their common goal is to start dredging the river without the years of lawsuits and studies typical of cleanups done under the Superfund law.

Layers of heavy metals and cancer-causing PCBs have contaminated the river-bottom silt.

Dredging would not only clean up the pollution but would accommodate more boat traffic on a channel that flows into Lake Erie at Ashtabula, in Ohio’s northeast corner.

“It isn’t only an environmental issue. It is a very serious economic issue in this county,” said John Mahan, coordinator of the Ashtabula River Partnership, a joint endeavor of environmentalists, regulators, polluters and municipalities.

The various interests were driven together by the experience of Fields Brook, a nearby upstream tributary that years ago was put on the EPA Superfund list of the nation’s most pressing pollution problems.

As with other Superfund sites, expenses have mounted and the actual cleanup work has been delayed.  There was a consensus that there had to be a better way. So far, the partnership is working.  Just this fall Congress added language to the EPA’s spending bill urging the agency to issue no more dredging orders.

It wasn’t mandatory, but “the trend is worrisome,” said Emily Green, a Great Lakes expert with the Sierra Club’s Midwest office.  “If they try to push it again next year, it would really have a tremendous impact on the lakes.”

Dredging often is the preferred cleanup option because it’s permanent and prevents pollution from drifting downstream, said Green.

Reprinted from Baltimore Sun via Associated Press

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