Seeing opportunity in an old enemy; port authority eyes sustainable sediment strategies

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority is trying to change perceptions of the humble sediment particle.

Instead of being viewed as a nuisance that has to be dredged out of the Lower Cuyahoga River and stored at great expense, what if the sediment that settles in the river could become a marketable product. Perhaps it could be used as fill to create new natural areas and support urban redevelopment projects?

If the port authority realizes its vision, Cleveland’s economy and environment could benefit.

Portions of the Cuyahoga are regularly dredged to keep the river open for commerce; about 17,800 jobs are associated with maritime activity in Cleveland.

“We’re trying to commoditize sediment because we think from an asset management standpoint sediment has value, either in the marketplace or for habitat enrichment and other civic purposes,” said James White, director-sustainable infrastructure programs, Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority.

White spoke Wednesday at the Great Lakes Restoration Conference.

Preliminary samples show the sediment is clean enough to be used while being protective of human health and the environment. White said it could be used to support restoration efforts. Another idea is to use it in redevelopment projects. Thousands of homes in Cleveland may be demolished in redevelopment projects, and material is needed to fill the former basements.

Before that happens, more study is needed. The port authority is undertaking a sustainable sediment study that could shed more light on the vision.

White said the Cuyahoga is substantially out of equilibrium, causing significant erosion on its banks. Harvesting sediment suspended in the water column before it gets to the shipping canal wouldn’t negatively affect the river’s ecology.

One idea is to install traps that force water to shed sediment into them as it flows past. White said the traps are cost-effective and could reduce the need for costly dredging of the river by 10 to 20 percent. In addition, dredged sediment is currently stored in facilities alongside Lake Erie. But they are filling up.

“We think we can build civic partnerships that will be mutually beneficial,” said White.

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