A $475 million Great Lakes restoration initiative expected to be signed by President Barack Obama, could help fund an “Eco island” that would eliminate open lake dumping of dredging from the Toledo shipping channel.
The island, or habitat restoration unit, would create an area for fish spawning, birds and other habitat and would be observed by tourists visiting the restored Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, according to Sandy Bihn, Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper.
“A lot of money will be coming into this area in the next federal fiscal year,” said Bihn. “There are 16 agencies that will oversee the funding and what can be done with it. We believe that a project that eliminates open lake dumping, a practice many of us have opposed for years and contributes to the algae problem in the lake, will keep the waters from being so muddy and will be better for the fish and its habitat.”
The kidney shaped island would be attached to the northeast side of the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, explained Bihn.
“It would have a wetlands and reefs in it, and a habitat for birds,” she said. “It would be an island that would be designed to support the ecosystem to the best extent possible.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would dredge the sediments out of the shipping channel and put them in geo tubes, a mesh-like black fabric constructed in the shape of a tube, said Bihn.
“Then sediments are pumped into the geo tubes, which allow water to escape. What remain are the sediments. Instead of sediments being dispersed all over the lake, they’re contained in these geo tubes,” she said.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, and the City of Toledo have opposed open lake dumping for years, said Bihn.
“These habitat restoration units have been proposed for years, but we’ve never been able to get the project going. The problem is always money. The Corps of Engineers will pay a certain amount, but they need a local match. Yet no one has any money. We’re hoping with a combination of stimulus dollars and Great Lakes restoration funding, the island, along with the restoration of the historic lighthouse, might be the kind of project to get funded in this program,” said Bihn.
“There are proposals to put islands in Maumee Bay by the Corps of Engineers,” added Bihn. “Many of us don’t like that. The Corps is proposing a 1,200 acre site off Little Cedar Point, which would block circulation on the southern shore of Maumee Bay, which many people in our area object to because we already got Facility 3 at one end. We favor doing something in the open lake. Right now, the Corps is open lake dumping about 2 miles out from the lighthouse. So this would bring it in at the point where the lake and the Bay meet. It’s a good project for the lighthouse. It would help to gain entry and access to the lighthouse. It would allow people to look at a natural area that would be beautiful over time. It would be a neat project.”
Great Lakes restoration has gained momentum in Congress and the White House recently with the inclusion of the $475 million Great Lakes Initiative proposed in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget. The monies have been appropriated by congressional committees and now must be approved by the senate and joint conference committee to find their way to restoration programs in northwest Ohio and throughout the Great Lakes.
“Great Lakes restoration is a complement to the economy and is a catalyst for job creation,” said Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority president and CEO Michael J. Stolarczyk. “We are counting on Ohio’s congressional delegation to act on the momentum in the White House and congress and support the $475 million appropriation for the Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery.”
The Brookings Institution estimates that the Great Lakes region would see a $2 economic benefit for every $1 investment in the restoration of the lakes. Metropolitan areas in the region could see $200 million to $7 billion in economic gains.
“We strongly support full congressional funding of Great Lakes restoration programs that create jobs, keep beaches open, and provide for a high quality of life,” said State Rep. Peter Ujvagi. “We can restore the Great Lakes and revive the economy. The key is swift action now, before the problems get worse and more costly.”