MAHONING RIVER Officials seek public comment on dredging plans

LIBERTY -- The public will have an opportunity to comment this evening on a potential $100 million project to dredge industrially contaminated sediment from 31 miles of the Mahoning River between Warren and the Pennsylvania line.
Displays will be on view beginning at 5 p.m., and the public meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn MetroPlex. The meeting is sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, and the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
The meeting's goals are to inform the public about the proposed project and various alternatives for achieving its goals and to receive public comment, said Kimberly Mascarella, Eastgate's director of environmental planning.
"The Army Corps is gauging how much the Mahoning Valley is behind this project. We're trying to get people to come and show their support or voice their concerns," she added.
The project would remove riverbank and bottom sediments contaminated by decades of accumulation of environmental pollutants from steel and related industries.
Using the river
Because of that contamination, the Ohio Department of Health has maintained since 1988 an advisory against swimming or wading in this section of the river or eating fish caught there.
In a preliminary $500,000 study that was fully funded by the federal government, the corps concluded that the benefits of cleaning up the river outweigh the estimated $100 million cost.
"To have a river that you can canoe down and fish in is an asset to any downtown area, economically, recreationally, socially, culturally. We're truly missing out on a great resource here," Mascarella said.
"It's a public health issue. We've never had a recreational river in the Mahoning Valley," in recent generations, she added. "It's just been so long that this river has not been touchable," Mascarella observed.
Feasibility study
Today's meeting is being conducted as the corps begins a $3 million, 2 to 21/2-year feasibility study on dredging methods, dewatering of dredged sediment, and how and where to dispose of the dredged sediment.
Other items to be considered are introduction of microorganisms to help neutralize the pollutants and removal of some dams, which trap sediment.
The feasibility study is being funded 50 percent by the federal government, 47.5 percent by the state and 2.5 percent by funds from the Mahoning Valley's local governments.
If the project goes forward, the federal government would pay 65 percent of design and construction costs, and the other 35 percent would have to come from non-federal sources, according to a fact sheet issued by the corps.
As for paying for the project, Mascarella concluded: "It'll be a challenge. It may take some local fund-raising. It may take some partnerships with the state."

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