Cleanup removes mountains of steel slag along river

Project Summary: The removal of more than 1 million cubic yards of steel waste along the Lower Black River is improving water quality and habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Project name: Black River restoration.

Location: Lorain, Ohio.

Slag piles once dominated the Black River shoreline. The piles were removed and replaced with trees and other vegetation. (Lorain Morning Journal photo)

Slag piles once dominated the Black River shoreline. The piles were removed and replaced with trees and other vegetation. (Lorain Morning Journal photo)

Description: For decades, the Black River powered the city of Lorain’s industrial economy. But the pollutants dumped into the Lake Erie tributary degraded its ecological functioning so severely it became known as the “River of Fish Tumors.” After many of the factories closed, however, Lorain viewed a healthy river as a key to its economic rebirth. In 2007, Lorain obtained 300 acres along a 1.5-mile stretch of the river from a defunct steel-making operation. The city set about restoring the area, turning to photographs from the turn of the 20th Century as a guide to its natural topography. In addition to removing steel-making waste called slag that towered 80 feet above a portion of the river, the restoration improved fish habitat and restored native plants to the area.

Approximate cost of project: $12 million.

Resource challenges addressed: Toxic sediments, impaired water quality, contaminated fish, and loss of fish and wildlife habitat.

Key partners (public and private): Funding for most restoration activities came from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio EPA provided $6.3 million in funding to tackle the site of the slag piles.  Local partners included the city of Lorain, Lorain Port Authority, Lorain County, Lorain Metro Parks and the Lorain County General Health District.

Types of jobs created: Heavy equipment operators, general laborers, biologists, toxicologists, chemists, landscape architects.

Results and accomplishments: The project has removed more than 1 million cubic yards of steel waste. Where the slag once stood, about 5,000 native shrubs and trees were planted and are taking root in a variety of habitats in the floodplain. Anecdotal evidence shows newly created pools and nearly 6,000 feet of fish shelves — areas of stone and rubble in the river where fish can find refuge and forage — have improved fish populations. Over 20 acres of floodplain wetland habitat have been restored, while 52 acres of the river have been persevered. In September of 2013, the third annual Black River Kayak-A-Thon was held to promote recreational boating on the river and to highlight the restoration project successes.

Web site: www.lorainblackriver.com

Originally Published: May 15, 2013

Updated: February 5, 2014

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