CLEVELAND (CN) – Though it supports the removal of the dilapidated Ballville Dam, the Sierra Club told a federal judge that the current plan will harm Lake Erie.
The environmental group filed suit Tuesday for an injunction against the destruction of the century-old dam, pending the preparation and approval of a new environmental impact statement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Built between 1911 and 1913, the Ballville Dam spans the 407-foot width of the Sandusky River and stands at a relatively short height of 34 feet, which allows water to pass freely over the top.
Though originally built for hydroelectric power generation, that function was abandoned in 1946, yet sediment particles continue to settle on the riverbed behind the dam while it slows the flow of the river.
The area immediately downstream from the dam is a popular fishing area that includes a walleye and white bass spawning ground. Four designated parks and two boat-access points are nearby as well.
With Fremont using the water that pooled behind the dam as a source of municipal drinking water from 1959 until 2013, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources noted the deteriorating condition of the dam and directed the city to develop a remediation plan.
Fremont soon began building a new reservoir as a source of drinking water and proposed to remove the dam and restore the free flow of the Sandusky River.
The Sierra Club notes that the federal funds committed to the dam-removal project required the preparation of an environmental impact statement that addresses any possible environmental consequences.
Among other negative side effects, that statement predicted that sediment discharge caused by the dam’s removal will stress out fish and “probably disturb the downstream aquatic ecosystems,” the Sierra Club claims.
“At no point does the FEIS attempt to specifically determine the sediment’s likely effects on the Sandusky River’s wildlife and at no point does it make a declaration that these impacts would be insignificant; rather it assumes that they will be,” its complaint states. “Rather than determine the direct effect of the sediment on the Sandusky River and its inhabitants, the FEIS dismisses the issue, i.e., ‘sweeps it under the rug’ with the generalization that, whatever the unknown extent of the impact is, it will be ‘temporary,’ even though measured in terms of years, and the long-term benefits will ultimately outweigh those impacts at some undetermined future time.”
Though a 2002 study estimated that 1.3 million cubic yards of sediment had collected behind the dam, a 2011 study conducted in support of the FEIS estimated the total sediment at 840,000 cubic yards, according to the lawsuit.
The Sierra Club says the FEIS fails to account for that 460,000 cubic-yard discrepancy between the studies.
There is also no consideration of how the sediment likely absorbed toxic contaminants, primarily metals, as a result of urban, industrial and agricultural pollution.
“These toxic effects do not enter into any specific impact assessment made in the EIS apparently due to the conclusion that this sediment is lower or similar in toxic contaminants than the Lake Erie sediments which these sediments will eventually join,” the complaint states.
The Sierra Club says it supports the dam’s proper removal because it will lead to an increased abundance of many wildlife species within the river and promote greater species diversity, a development certain to improve Lake Erie fisheries.
Improper release of the sediment behind the dam, however, will impair river quality and limit the benefits that the dam’s removal should provide, the group contends.
“At no point does the [final form of the environmental impact statement] attempt to specifically determine the sediment’s likely effects on the Sandusky River’s wildlife and at no point does it make a declaration that these impacts would be insignificant; rather it assumes they will be,” the complaint states.
The Sierra Club is represented by Richard Sahli of Columbus.
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