Lorain Council visits Black River Dredge Reuse Facility ahead of its first dredge cycle this fall

LORAIN — The Black River Dredge Material Reuse Facility is nearly complete.

City Council visited the site along the Black River during its meeting on Monday. It will be operational by August for the upcoming dredge cycle.

The facility is the first in the country, spanning about 70 acres behind U.S. Steel along the riverfront. It includes eight geopools, two solids basins and a water management area — all with the goal of turning dredge material into usable topsoil.

An aerial view of the Black River Dredge Reuse Facility
An aerial view of the Black River Dredge Reuse Facility under construction in south Lorain behind U.S. Steel. The facility will be operational by the upcoming dredge cycle in August.

The project started in 2016 during a discussion with the Army Corps of Engineers after a change to how the Corps could handle dredge material.

Prior to 2016, the Army Corps was able to dredge the state’s navigable waterways and dump the sediment out farther in Lake Erie — allowing shallower parts of the lake and Ohio’s rivers to remain deep enough for ships to travel without having to dispose of the sediment and debris it pulled from the bottom of the waterways.

But after legal rulings restricted open water dredging in an effort to curb algae blooms and other issues, the Army Corps and its contractors needed to look for another solution.

In 2020 Lorain had a pilot geopool about half the size of those built at the Black River Dredge Material Reuse Facility now. The pool proved the concept — in which material dug from the Black River Harbor could be pumped into the geopool in a slurry, and the water allowed to drain from the mixture to leave behind essentially topsoil.

“A lot of eyes are watching how this goes,” Lorain Storm Water Manager Kathryn Golden said.

A woman, talking to a group of people holds her hands out, and a man takes a photo with his smartphone
Lorain Storm Water Manager Kathryn Golden (center) explains the dredge process using the city’s new geopools to Lorain City Council during a trip to the Black River Dredge Material Reuse Facility on Monday, June 24, 2024.

Kristen Risch, Coldwater Consulting project manager and principal owner, and her staff described the process as similar to a coffee filter. The material geopools are made of allows the water to drain away or be pumped into the water management area on site to be moved back into the river, while the sediment stays behind.

Golden said it takes the sediment about six months to dry out completely. The city does plan to look at selling the soil left behind, though hauling it out of the site has proved difficult.

She said the soil could be used for fill-in projects, such as the demolition of larger buildings.

The facility is capable of accepting 75,000 cubic yards of dredge material each year.

The goal is for the facility to be self-sufficient.

Golden said the city has not spent any money directly on the project. The $19.9 million facility was funded by a $15.9 million Ohio Environmental Protection Agency grant and a $4 million Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant.

The fees paid by the contractor who dredges the waterways for the Army Corps should be enough to cover the operating costs.

Terminal Ready-Mix will operate the facility. The company received $1.4 million from the city’s grant fund. Moving forward, Terminal Ready-Mix will be paid with the fees charged to dredge companies.

The estimated operating cost, including Terminal Ready-Mix’s contract, is about $1.9 million each year.

The Black River Dredge Material Reuse Facility also acts as another cap on the former U.S. Steel coke plant, putting a layer of soil and the pools themselves over the slag and other debris left behind there.

As seen on Dredgewire

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