LORAIN — For two to three weeks each year, the Army Corps of Engineers pulls tons of sludge from the Black River.
Normally, that material — sediment and debris washed into the waterway — would be poured into a collection facility in the harbor.
But by next year, it will find its way farther downriver in a facility behind the steel mills on East 28th Street and, eventually, shipped back out as topsoil or other usable material.
Lorain Storm Water Manager Kathryn Golden said the innovative project started in 2016 during discussions with the Army Corps. After looking at sites, the only one that would really work was the roughly 80-acre property behind the steel mills, next to the heron rookery along the river.
The Army Corps dredges all navigable waterways in the country, pulling sediment from the bottom of rivers to maintain required depths for boats and barges, she said.
In the 1990s, material was dumped about a mile out in Lake Erie, fueling algae blooms and other ecological concerns.
In 2000, open-water disposal was stopped and dredge material was initially placed in confined disposal facilities. But those facilities are expensive to build and expand — as they’re built on the lakebed from stone — and have finite space.
In 2019, Lorain received a $4 million grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to begin the design and construction of its potential GeoPool® (Patented) facility.
First came the pilot project, proving the idea of a permeable mesh on stands could drain water from the slurry of material and leave the sediments behind quick enough to be practical, Golden said.
The $4 million paid for design and professional services. Coldwater Consulting was brought on at that time and, after the pilot was successful, the idea of GeoPool in Lorain took one step closer to reality.
It will be the first GeoPool facility of its size in the country, Golden said.
What will look like eight giant, above-ground pools will have a chocolate-milk slurry of river water and sludge hydraulically pumped in from boats once a year. From there, the mesh liner of the pool acts like a coffee filter, Golden said.
Much of the water drains almost instantaneously, going back to the river and leaving behind the larger sediment.
“That sediment stays in there for one freeze-thaw cycle,” she said. “By the time that happens, it’s dry enough for us to remove and then it’s just dirt.”
Analysis of that dirt shows it is topsoil that comes from elsewhere in the Lake Erie watershed, she said.
Once constructed, the pools will be large enough that City Hall could comfortably fit in each, she said. Also, they have the added benefit of acting as another environmental cap on one of the cities brownfield sites: the former RTI Coke Plant.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is interested in the technology for the potential to be used inland on state reservoirs, Golden said. The pools are easily taken down and set back up again, she said, allowing for sediment to be pulled from waterways in nontraditional areas.
Once pumped into the pools and the initial water is drained, the same polymers used to treat drinking water will be added to capture the finest of sediment, Golden said.
Kristen Risch, project manager and principal owner of Coldwater Consulting, said once the facility is in place, investment of time and money to get sediments off the bottom of the river will find its way to the marketplace, rather than just a disposal facility.
“We’ve taken a product or material that took time to get off the bottom of the river that was normally just dumped at a loss … and really a negative cost because it’s not an environmentally sound way to get rid of the sediment,” she said. “And now we have this material that we can use or reuse in a variety of applications.”
Each pool is anticipated to hold up to 9,000 cubic yards of sediment, Golden said, with the potential for a south solids basin to act as overflow if needed during each annual dredge cycle.
The facility will be able to handle 75,000 cubic yards of sediment — enough to fill about 23 Olympic-size swimming pools. During the dredging process, that sediment will be combined with a total of 60 million gallons of water.
The pools are designed so once the sediment is dry one of the sides can fold down and heavy machinery is able to access the dirt left behind – loading it up to be sold to farmers or used in construction projects.
Lorain received $15 million from the Ohio EPA for the construction of the GeoPool, with the caveat the site be operational by summer 2024.
Once up and running, the facility will be entirely self-sufficient, Golden said. The city will contract with a third-party facility manager through a competitive bid process, and it will pay that contract through the money it receives to process dredging material for the Army Corps and revenue from selling the final soil.
Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or [email protected].