Brown, Portman Announce Final Passage of Bill to Help Protect Cleveland from Toxic Sediment

Bill now heads to President’s desk

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) today announced passage legislation that will help keep toxic material dredged from the Cuyahoga River out of Lake Erie. A provision of the bill, the Water Infrastructure Investments for the Nation Act, formerly known as the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), makes clear that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) cannot determine that dumping dredged material into Lake Erie is environmentally acceptable unless it meets the state of Ohio’s water quality standards. This will help protect Lake Erie from the Corps’ repeated attempts to dispose of contaminated sediment into the Lake. The bill now heads to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.

“This is a win for local businesses and jobs along the Cuyahoga River and Port of Cleveland,” said Brown. “Dredging is key to protecting our lake and keeping the channel open for businesses. This will hold the Corps to our state’s water quality standards so we can keep Lake Erie clean.”

“The Cleveland Harbor is vital to our efforts to create more Ohio jobs and protect the environment,” said Senator Portman. “Annual dredging of the channel is critical for the region and this legislation ensures that not only will commercial navigation continue safely, but dredged material will not harm either the City of Cleveland’s water supply or Lake Erie’s ecosystem. I urge the President to sign this immediately.”

The provision of the bill means that the Corps must follow Ohio’s water quality standards when determining how to dispose of the dredged material.

According to the State of Ohio, more than $10 billion of the state’s nearly $40 billion tourism industry is derived from counties along the Lake Erie shoreline. Further, the Great Lakes play a vital role in transporting food, raw materials, and other goods necessary to support Ohio jobs. But in order for this to continue, the Great Lakes’ harbors and channels must be dredged in an environmentally acceptable manner. 

In January 2016, Brown and Portman urged USACE Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy to use at least $2 million of its $273 million unallocated operation and maintenance budget to make up for its irresponsible request for less money to dredge the Cleveland Harbor. The Corps requested $3.6 million less than the President’s budget, which will not be sufficient to safely place the dredged material upland. Brown and Portman’s letter urged the Corps to respect the State’s Water Quality Standards and pay for the cost of disposing of the toxic dredged material responsibly rather than dumping it into Lake Erie.

In February 2015, Brown and Portman wrote to Assistant Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Engineers at USACE calling for full funding of Great Lakes navigation projects and to direct additional resources to address a significant dredging backlog.