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EPA Administrator Johnson and Governor Taft celebrate start of Ashtabula River cleanup; $50 million project is Ohio's first under Legacy Act

Release Date: 06/05/2006
Contact Information: Anne Rowan, (312) 353-9391, rowan.anne@epa.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
No. 06-OPA86

ASHTABULA (June 5, 2006) - EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson today joined Ohio Governor Bob Taft, U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-14), other government officials and local partners in Ashtabula, Ohio, to celebrate the beginning of a $50 million project to clean up contaminated sediment from the Ashtabula River, a tributary to Lake Erie. The project is expected to take three years.

The federal-state-local cleanup project will be carried out under the Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2002, a special initiative aimed at cleaning up 31 toxic hot spots known as "areas of concern" around the Great Lakes. The Ashtabula River cleanup is Ohio's first Legacy Act project. While three earlier Legacy Act cleanups have addressed smaller hot spots, the Ashtabula project will comprehensively address an entire area of concern.

"Thanks to President Bush's Great Lakes Legacy Act, instead of posted warning signs, Ashtabula's banks will once again be covered with fishing poles," said Administrator Johnson. "Just like a father handing down the skills of tying a fishing lure, EPA and our partners are determined to hand down a cleaner, healthier river to the next generation of Ashtabula anglers."

EPA in cooperation with the Ashtabula City Port Authority (the non-federal sponsor) will clean up 500,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from a one-mile stretch of the river. Costs are being split evenly by EPA and the Ashtabula City Port Authority and its partners. The state of Ohio is providing $7 million as part of the Port Authority's cost share.

The work is being done in close cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is scheduled for completion in 2008. The Corps will also conduct navigation dredging downstream of the project area and will complete its work in 2009.

"The Ashtabula River dredging is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when federal, state and local government come together with business to achieve one goal," said Governor Taft. "The State of Ohio is proud to invest $7 million to help match the federal investment and advance the cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes."

"This is such an important day for the community, and one that was a long time coming," said Congressman LaTourette. "I've been working with local officials, the Ashtabula River Partnership and the EPA for 12 years, and the effort even predates my time in Congress. A lot of people were very patient, and a lot of people never gave up hope that this day would come. Our long-awaited reward will be a vibrant and clean Ashtabula Harbor."

The Ashtabula's name comes from the Iroquois and means "river of many fish." Numerous species of fish still live there but PCB pollution caused the Ohio Department of Public Health in 1997 to post warning signs to advise limiting consumption of fish caught from the river. The goal of this Legacy Act cleanup is to reduce contamination to safe levels so such warnings will no longer be necessary.

"Removing contaminated sediments under the Legacy Act combined with our expanded navigation dredging will provide immense ecological benefits to the Ashtabula River and Lake Erie," said Corps of Engineers Brigadier General Bruce A. Berwick. "These actions will also provide substantial economic benefits, assuring the future for the Port of Ashtabula, which moves more than 10 million tons of coal annually and ranks among the top 50 busiest ports in the country and the top ten on the Great Lakes."

"This important project is a win-win not only for the community of Ashtabula, but for all inhabitants downstream as well," said Fred C. Leitert, Co-Chairman of the Coordinating Committee of the Ashtabula Partnership. "We are looking forward with great enthusiasm and appreciation to this important day."

Contaminated sediment is one of the major reasons many Great Lakes fish are not safe to eat in unlimited quantities. It also harms aquatic habitat and pollutes sources of drinking water. This has been a long-term and persistent problem throughout the entire Great Lakes basin. There are still millions of cubic yards of contaminated sediment to be removed from the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act authorizes $270 million in funding over five years for cleanups of contaminated sediment hot spots. In 2004, the first year funds were available, Congress appropriated $9.9 million. In 2005, Congress appropriated $22.3 million, and $29.6 million is available this year. Cleanups of Black Lagoon, an inlet of the Detroit River in Trenton, Mich., as well as Newton Creek/Hog Island Inlet in Superior, Wis., were completed last year. Another project at Ruddiman Creek in Muskegon, Mich., was finished last month and more projects are expected.

For more information, go to www.epa.gov/glla

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