Massive cleanup transforms lower Ashtabula River

Project Summary: A sediment cleanup and habitat restoration project have restored the lower two miles of the Ashtabula River and advanced efforts to get it de-listed as a Great Lakes Area of Concern.

Project name: Ashtabula River cleanup and habitat restoration.

Location: Ashtabula, Ohio.

Description: The Ashtabula River is one of Ohio’s most significant rivers, a biologically rich tributary of Lake Erie that supports 88 fish species. Decades of unregulated industrial and municipal waste discharges blanketed the last two miles of the river with a layer of toxic mud that contaminated aquatic life and disrupted navigation. The lower river was declared a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1985 and the Ohio Department of Health posted signs in 1997 warning anglers to limit their consumption of fish caught in that stretch of the river. The Ashtabula River RAP/Partnership in 1988 began working to bring about a cleanup of the beleaguered river.

Severe pollution in the lower Ashtabula River prompted health officials to warn anglers to limit their consumption of fish from those waters.

Approximate cost of project: $61.5 million, $1.5 million of which came from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Resource challenges addressed: Contaminated sediments, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, contaminated fish, and shoals that prevented ships from reaching parts of the harbor.

Key partners (public and private): The Ashtabula River RAP/Partnership; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which provided $30 million for the cleanup; the Ashtabula Port Authority, which contributed $23 million; the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which contributed $7 million; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which provided $15 million to deepen a stretch of river adjacent to the cleanup to improve navigation.

Cleaning up the lower river has made it a more attractive place for boaters and anglers. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency photos)

Types of jobs created: Dredge operators, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, chemists, toxicologists, biologists, ecologists and general laborers.

Results and accomplishments: The cleanup removed 630,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment that contained more than 25,000 pounds of hazardous polychlorinated biphenyls and other toxic compounds. The project improved water quality and deepened the river channel, making the lower Ashtabula suitable again for maritime commerce, fishing and recreational boating. A habitat restoration project slated for completion in 2012 will create 1,500 feet of prime fish habitat in the lower two miles of the river, which will bolster populations of muskellunge and northern pike.

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Originally Published: March 28, 2012

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