EPA Administrator Wheeler announces significant progress at three Great Lakes Areas of Concern
The delisting of the Ashtabula River Area of Concern can start, as final beneficial use impairment is removed
CLEVELAND (Oct. 7, 2020) – At a press conference today in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced a series of Great Lakes-related accomplishments in Ohio and across the Midwest, including the removal of the final beneficial use impairment at the Ashtabula River Area of Concern (AOC), and the completion of all management actions at the Black River AOC.
“I’m proud – both as EPA Administrator and as an Ohioan – to announce that the Ashtabula River is the first AOC in the state to begin the delisting process,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “We are within sight of the finish line in terms of returning Ohio’s rivers to health again – so they can again become a place where people can swim, play, catch fish, and generally enjoy what this great state has to offer.”
Since the mid-2000s, EPA, along with state and federal partners, and industries have spent over $67.5 million to clean up contaminated sediment and restore habitat in the Ashtabula River AOC. The final beneficial use impairment (restrictions on dredging activities) was removed just last month. With its removal, Ohio can now initiate the delisting of this AOC. It is anticipated that this AOC may be delisted by the end of FY2021, which would make it the sixth AOC delisted out the 31 original U.S. AOCs.
“Through a combination of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding and strong partnerships with our local, state and federal partners, more than $24 million has been spent on completing habitat restoration projects in the Black River AOC,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Kurt A. Thiede.
The final management action in the Black River AOC was also completed last month. This final project will improve water quality and restore habitat for birds and other wildlife by grading and covering over 35 acres of slag piles along City of Lorain-owned property along the river. Now that all management actions are now complete, the remaining beneficial use impairments will be evaluated over the next several years to determine if criteria for removing them are met.
Other announcements included:
Cuyahoga River AOC: In September, EPA and the State of Ohio agreed on the final list of critical management actions necessary to remove the remaining seven beneficial use impairments for the Cuyahoga River AOC. This final list includes 16 projects that focus on the cleanup of contaminated sediments and restoration of degraded fish and wildlife habitat. In July, EPA announced a $1.045 million grant to the City of Akron for the Cuyahoga Gorge Dam removal project. This project will develop the design for the eventual removal of contaminated sediment and the dam structure. Removal of this dam will restore historic free-flowing conditions to over 1.5 miles of the Cuyahoga River.
Ohio & Erie Canal Aquatic Nuisance Species Barrier Project: With Great Lake Restoration Initiative funding from EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed construction of physical barriers to protect the commercial and recreational fisheries in Ohio and the Great Lakes. The barrier project will minimize the probability of aquatic nuisance species like Asian carp (bighead and silver) moving from the Ohio River Basin into the Great Lakes Basin via the Ohio & Erie Canal. EPA and ACOE coordinated closely with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Summit County Metro Parks to complete this project.
GLRI Grant to Ohio: EPA awarded $694,000 to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to support their efforts to protect and restore Lake Erie and associated Areas of Concern through September of 2022. This award was the final increment of a three-year $3,675,000 grant.
The first meeting of the re-established Great Lakes Advisory Board (GLAB) will be held virtually later this month. Administrator Wheeler re-established the GLAB, an EPA federal advisory committee, in December 2018 to provide advice and recommendations on matters related to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada. In June, EPA announced the new members of the GLAB.
The GLRI was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes. Federal agencies have funded more than 5,400 projects totaling over $2.7 billion to address the most important Great Lakes priorities such as addressing agricultural nutrients and stormwater runoff, cleaning up highly-contaminated "Areas of Concern," combating invasive species and restoring habitat.
For more information on the GLRI, visit https://www.glri.us/.