LORAIN, Ohio — What may look like regular old dirt to most is gold to the city of Lorain, or at the very least, dirt that you might one day buy to place in your garden. In a site along the Black River, the city launched a pilot program in 2020 where they created what's called a GeoPool. It's where sediment that is dredged out of the Black River was placed into the man-made area that acts like a giant coffee filter.
"And then that GeoPool will de-water the dredged material and produce a sellable soil material that than can be introduced into the market,” said Kate Golden, Lorain’s Stormwater Manager.
“Picture it as sort of a giant above-ground swimming pool, and that pool has permeable edges, so the dredge slurry is pumped into that facility and de-watered through the edges and the bottom, and then what’s left in the facility is the sediment that can then be excavated out with machinery and processed for reuse.”
In order to maintain deep enough waters for shipping, local rivers and ports are constantly being dredged. The sediment that came out of the Black River each year used to be dumped out in the lake, but that was creating another problem.
"That material has a lot of nutrients in it and those nutrients helped feed algal blooms,” said Joy Mulinex, Executive Director of Ohio’s Lake Erie Commission.
So the Ohio legislature voted in 2015 that starting in 2020, you could no longer dump dredged material back in the lake, prompting Lorain to try this GeoPool concept which proved to be a success.
“We knew that the material was clean,” said Mulinex. The Black River is 35 years into an EPA cleanup that is nearing completion.
Lorain is on the receiving end of $15 million in federal funds to get the project, which will include eight of the GeoPools that will be larger than the model. With an eye towards completion in 2024, the pools will be able to handle all 75,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged out of the Black River each year and convert it into soil.
"This is a really groundbreaking project,” Adam Pellegrini, a Lorain Civil Engineer on the project. “This is the only site of a GeoPool that's going to be in the United States."
And at very least, it's a project that city leaders expect to pay for itself initially, but down the road, “we’re also hoping that somewhere along the future we're going to be able to actually turn a profit,” said Mayor Jack Bradley. “Topsoil is expensive, so I'm hoping that someday Lorain topsoil is being sold at garden centers and generates some money back to our city."