The goal is to clean up the river for human use.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County is joining the effort to make the Mahoning River safe again for swimmers and fishermen.
The county has agreed to look for state funding to pay for half of the estimated $2 million feasibility study planned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Brian Burick, Lawrence County commissioner.
The study would determine how best to clean up the waterway from the Ohio line to the Beaver River. The Mahoning River served as a dumping spot by steel mills along its banks for most the 20th Century and has been deemed a human health hazard by the Ohio Department of Health since 1988.
Making it safe
The goal of the study and cleanup effort is to make it safe for human use again, said Carmen Rozzi, project manager in charge of the effort for the corps.
"Right now there are fish in the river that have deformities and cancers. Once that generation of fish goes [and the river is clean] and the next generation comes, we will try to remove the human health advisory," he said.
A similar project was successfully completed in the Black River in Ohio and the state's human health advisory was lifted, he said.
The corps estimates the Lawrence County cleanup effort will end by 2018 and cost a total of $37.4 million.
Although that figure sounds high, Rozzi said, studies show the region will recoup nearly that much money annually in recreational use of the river.
An independent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1980s showed that a clean Mahoning River, with no health hazards, would generate an estimated $30 million in the region, Rozzi said.
"It would be a very nice resource. You would attract people to it for fishing, and they spend money. That [University of Pittsburgh] report brought up to today's dollars says an average $20 per day is spent by recreational fishermen at local bait shops, restaurants and other places," he said.
Similar economic effects are expected in the Ohio region of the river, which has already found a local partner, akin to Lawrence County, to look for state or local funding to help pay for the feasibility study.
In January, the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments agreed to be the local partner with the corps for the project, which will work to clean up the river from the area just south of Leavittsburg to the state line. The Eastgate COG secured a $1.5 million local match through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to pay its half of the $3 million feasibility study, which will determine how to clean the polluted river.
Once Lawrence County secures state or local funding to pay half of the estimated $2 million for the feasibility study, similar work will begin here. Rozzi said he hopes to complete the Pennsylvania portion of the feasibility study by 2006.
Both areas will then undergo planning and cleanup stages that won't likely end until 2018.
The federal government has promised to pay 65 percent of the cleanup costs in both Ohio and Pennsylvania if a local or state source can be found to supply 35 percent of the costs, according to corps project estimates.
"Our whole goal here is to restore the river to what we are calling a baseline condition, which is how it appears upstream of where the contamination starts," Rozzi said.