Case Study: Conneaut Harbor, Ohio on Lake Erie

Pennsylvania Uses Interstate Consistency Provisions of the Coastal Zone Management Act to Achieve Beneficial Use of Dredged Material


Dredging at Conneaut Harbor, Ohio on Lake Erie involves removal of sediments arriving from Conneaut Creek and through littoral drift over and through the breakwaters protecting the harbor. Both the main ship channel and the municipal pier access channel receive periodic dredging as federal navigation channels. Since the initial harbor was constructed, beginning around 1900, the predominantly eastern drift of beach sand has been increasingly blocked by additions to the harbor structures. Completion of a nearshore eastern shorearm in 1964 stopped any pass-through sediment movement to the shoreline east of the harbor. Presently, much of the inner harbor outside of the federal navigation channels has been filled in with sediment from the littoral process, forming large expanses of dry land and shallow water. “Danger, Deep Water” signs front acres of dry sand showing tracks from vehicle traffic. A volleyball net rests in shallow water far out in the harbor. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Buffalo District, estimates that the growth rate of the shoal inside the harbor is about 6,000 cubic yards annually.

This long-term blockage of littoral drift material effectively starves the beaches to the east of the harbor, leading to rapid erosion of the shoreline at a rate of approximately 2 feet per year for a distance of nearly 3.5 miles, with diminishing effects beyond that point. Two property owners receive the major impacts: the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad in Ohio and the Pennsylvania Game Commission in Pennsylvania (Gamelands 314.) The shorelines of both properties are presently undeveloped and provide a valuable stretch of continuous habitat for migratory birds and indigenous flora and fauna.

Maintenance Dredging and CZMA Consistency Requirements

The dredging plan originally developed by the Corps included open lake disposal for 60,000 cu. yd. of mixed sediment from the ship channel and 40,000 cu. yd. of coarse-grained material from the municipal channel. Since the harbor is close to the Pennsylvania border, consistency determinations under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) were required from both Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Zone Management Program (PCZM) took note of the dual origins of the accumulated sediments. Those arriving from Conneaut Creek were found to be appropriate for open lake disposal, while those accumulated through littoral drift and storm processes were considered appropriate for restoration of the nearshore littoral budget.

With support from Pennsylvania’s Office of the Great Lakes and other state and local officials and agencies, using the interstate consistency provisions of the CZMA, PCZM asked the Corps to reconsider their options and include beneficial use of the sediment appropriate for littoral restoration. PCZM placed conditions on the federal dredging activities to achieve consistency with the dredging and coastal hazards policies of Pennsylvania’s federally-approved coastal management program. These policies encourage actions that promote shoreline stability.

The Corps initially focused on deep-water disposal to meet the least-cost requirements of the Federal Standard. They thought hydraulic dredging and re-deposition along the eastern shoreline would be too costly.


The immediate issue of federal/state consistency with the original maintenance dredging plan was resolved when the Corps was able to renegotiate their contract. The new plan included beneficial use by placement of sediment from the Municipal Pier Access Channel at a littoral nourishment site east of the harbor in less than four feet of water. After the ship channel was dredged in 1999, the work on the municipal channel was accomplished in June 2000. Re-estimates of sediment accumulations led to approximately 55,000 cubic yards of beach quality material being hydraulically dredged, transported and deposited at the nourishment site. Littoral disposal was accomplished within the Corps’ contract, at no cost to Ohio or Pennsylvania.

Additional Interstate and Intergovernmental Cooperation

Looking for long-term solutions as well as resolution of the immediate issues, discussions began that involved the Corps, the State of Ohio (Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey), the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (CZM), the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, and the Conneaut Port Authority. With the Conneaut Port Authority as the local sponsor, the Corps agreed to do a preliminary restoration plan (PRP) under Section 1135 (WRDA ‘86) – Project Modifications for Improvement of the Environment. After completion of the PRP, the Corps was encouraged by the partnership to submit the project for a full feasibility study. The preliminary plan includes restoration of island and shallow water habitat inside the harbor, movement of approximately 350,000 cubic yards of accumulated sediment located outside the federal navigation channels to the littoral nourishment area east of the harbor, and periodic dredging of new accumulations with similar placement of material. If the plan is found feasible, it will require a 25% cost share, so more interstate cooperation will be required.


In summary, the federal consistency requirements of the CZMA proved to be an invaluable tool for achieving beneficial-use modification of a project with significant interstate impacts. NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management provided strong support in interpretation of the requirements of the Act to include interstate jurisdiction, and communicated their findings to the Corps. Consideration of the impacts of the maintenance-dredging project inspired formation of a federal, state and local partnership to explore options with the Corps for correcting past environmental damage and anticipating future dredging needs. Work on those options continues.

Note: This case study was prepared during the summer of 2000.

For Further Information

Shamus Malone, Chief
Monitoring and Technical Assistance
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Office for River Basin Cooperation
Coastal Zone Management Program
P.O. Box 2063
Harrisburg, PA 17105-2063
Phone: 717-772-4785

Kelly Burch, Chief
Office of the Great Lakes
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Northwest Regional Office
230 Chestnut St.
Meadville, PA 16335-3481
Phone: 814-332-6816