The dredging cost isn't as formidable as it sounds, the CASTLO director said.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
LIBERTY -- Local government, economic development and environmental leaders generally favor a proposal to remove industrially contaminated sediment from 31 miles of the Mahoning River between Warren and the Pennsylvania line.
"Most communities that have a river going through their town, once the river has been restored, the communities really start to come back," said Nancy Brundage of Canfield, vice president of the Audubon Society of Mahoning Valley, citing Chattanooga, Tenn., as an example.
"I think it's something worth exploring. I think the opportunities are substantial. I support the idea," said Struthers Mayor Dan Mamula, noting he's not sure of the most effective way to do the dredging and how extensive the project should be.
Brundage and Mamula were among more than 60 people at a public meeting Wednesday in the Holiday Inn MetroPlex.
The meeting was sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is launching a study on the proposal, and the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
The corps estimates the dredging would cost $100 million. The project would remove riverbank and bottom sediments contaminated by decades of accumulation from steel and related industries from Warren to Lowellville. The Ohio Department of Health has maintained an advisory since 1988 against swimming or wading in that section of the river or eating fish caught there.
"You'll reap the investment in future economic development along the river. A clean river will help us in part of the effort to get our community back," said William DeCicco, executive director of CASTLO industrial park in Struthers and chairman of the Mahoning River Consortium, a group advocating restoration and revitalization of the river.
DeCicco said the $100 million cost isn't as formidable as it sounds.
Sixty-five percent of it would be paid for by the federal government. That would leave $35 million, which could be raised by the group of municipalities along the river at the rate of $3.5 million a year for 10 years, not a large amount compared to what is spent on major highway projects, he said.
"I think that it's an excellent investment in the community because it's going to touch 10 communities," said Holly Burnett of Youngstown, chairwoman of Youngstown's downtown revitalization committee.
"All of those communities will benefit," she said, adding that opening the river to recreation will help revitalize downtowns. She cited the corps' estimate that the project would yield a $30 million yearly return on the $100 million investment in it.
Besides dredging methods and how to dispose of the sediment, the feasibility study will examine introduction of microorganisms to help neutralize pollutants, burning some of the pollutants out of the sediment, removal or modification of some dams which trap sediments, and the possibility of covering contaminated sediment with clean earth or stone.
"I think it's an excellent idea. I think we need to clean it up," Councilman Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, of Youngstown, said, adding he wants to see if some of the required local matching funds can be contributed by the companies that polluted the river.
"I wouldn't bet on that because, for the most part, they're long gone," DeCicco said.
George Peya of Youngstown, newsletter editor for the Salt Springs Chapter of the Sierra Club, supports extracting sediment from behind the river's dams, which trap the highest concentrations of toxic materials, and possibly "notching" the dams to improve water flow.
However, Peya opposes dredging, fearing it would stir up contaminants and send them downstream, where they might contaminate drinking water.