For an investment of $35 million, the Mahoning Valley would receive $65 million from the federal government to clean up the Mahoning River. By any measure, that's a great deal. But there's more: The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the $100 million expenditure to remove industrially contaminated sediment from 31 miles of the river would yield a $30 million yearly return.
So what's stopping the region from putting the river restoration project on a fast track? Reality.
The 10 municipalities along the Mahoning River between Warren and the Pennsylvania line don't have the money to invest in something that many residents consider a luxury. Cleaning up the Mahoning River, which has been polluted for as long as people can remember, doesn't rank up there with police and fire protection, good roads and water and sewer services.
We are in agreement with William DeCicco, executive director of CASTLO Industrial Park in Struthers and chairman of the Mahoning River Consortium, when he says: "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."
But how do elected officials in the 10 communities tell their residents that for the next 10 years, $3.5 million will be taken out of the public treasury, while they're laying off policemen and firefighters and cutting back on some services, as the city of Youngstown is doing? They don't.
Searching for dollars
Which means that if the Mahoning River is to be restored, the consortium, along with the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and local development agencies will have to find other sources of revenue to make up the $35 million local share. Yes, that's easier said than done, but the alternative is let the river continue to exist in its current polluted state, making it unusable for recreation.
This week, in a Vindicator story about a public meeting sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers and the council of governments, officials from environmentally friendly organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society were quoted as voicing their support for the river clean-up.
Given that such groups have long advocated initiatives to protect this nation's natural treasures, including rivers, lakes and streams, they should be willing to help the consortium contact foundations that would to contribute to the Valley's future.
For their part, the 10 communities along the river should write to Gov. Bob Taft and to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources requesting a special allocation from a fund that is used to pay for environmental clean-up of old industrial sites.
Since the Mahoning River's contamination was caused by the steel mills, the state should be willing to treat the waterway as a "brownfield."