With an agreement between the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the dream of a cleaner Mahoning River is coming -- albeit incrementally -- closer. In May 1999, the corps completed a $500,000 study outlining how to remove industrial pollution from the Mahoning River, one of the five most polluted in the state. The next step is a feasibility study of the project's cost. Ultimately, the contaminated sediments will be dredged from the river. The dredging is admittedly a number of years off, but the process is continuing. And that's a good sign.
After all, the Mahoning River didn't become an environmental hazard overnight. At one time, the river ran clean and pure, for centuries a haven for the wildlife that lived in its waters or along its banks in the Ohio and Pennsylvania watersheds the Mahoning drained. The river originates southeast of Alliance. From there it flows north to Newton Falls, then arcs to the east and southeast, flowing through Leavittsburg, Warren, Niles, McDonald, Girard, Youngstown, Campbell, Struthers and Lowellville before entering Pennsylvania. There it joins with the Shenango River to become the Beaver River. The Beaver discharges in the Ohio River which flows into the Mississippi and thence to the Gulf of Mexico.
But it is in this region where some of the greatest harm to the river took place. While the steel mills of the 20th century were bringing life to the people of the Mahoning Valley, they were dealing death to the Mahoning River. As recently as 1977, the average daily discharge from the Valley's nine major steel plants exceeded 400,000 pounds of suspended solids, 70,000 pounds of oil and grease, 9,000 pounds of ammonia-nitrogen, 500 pounds of cyanide and 800 pounds of zinc.
It's the persistence of these dangerous sediments that still make the fish inedible and the use of the river for swimming dangerous.
And each step of the clean-up process is costly. The feasibility study alone is estimated at $3 million.
Regional cooperation: However, the city of Massillon which is receiving a $32 million Ohio Environmental Protection loan to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant, has agreed to include the Mahoning River dredging project's feasibility study as one of its stream restoration projects. The Ohio grant would provide the $1.5 million local match to garner a $1.5 million federal EPA grant.
The project will need considerable community support. Of the $100 million for the dredging, about $35 million would be needed as a local match, most of it from grant funds. But the long-term rewards -- increased tourism, a healthier environment, and clean water -- should be well worth the effort.