Cleveland officials consider island park near downtown

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - City officials are determined to find out if Cleveland can have its own island. It may be a while before they get one.
Chris Ronayne, Cleveland's planning director, said no one is suggesting creating an island park will be easy. The idea is to dredge the Cuyahoga River and fill in a designated area in Lake Erie near downtown.
"It's very realistic," he said. "We know there would be a need to treat the fill, cap it, do what you need to do to make it an appropriate urban recreation resource, and we are exploring that with scientists."
Tim Mueller, Cleveland's chief development officer, said the idea of a close island, such as the island park in Canada near downtown Toronto, makes a lot of sense.
"As much as it is possible to look at a quality of life issue, it is essential to find a home for the river dredging," he said.
Sediments build up quickly and must be dug out every year so freighters can navigate the river.
The city's containment basin near Burke Lakefront Airport is nearly full, so a plan on where to put new dredged material needs to be determined in the next few years. Meanwhile, the city is forming a plan for development of its lakefront, with the goal of adding more access to Lake Erie.
The idea of a constructed island park is still being formed, Mueller said.
"We don't have a budget or details or a timeline. The mayor is not looking for approval this week or this month, but it certainly it is being considered," he said.
Ronayne said the idea fits in well with long-range lakefront planning.
"Part of the idea is that if you can't build more waterfront shoreline, then you consider more land in the water," he said.
He said natural Lake Erie islands, such as Kelleys Island, are popular tourist destinations.
"This is a different model, but it still would have a notion of an escape to a natural area," Ronayne said.
A message requesting comment on the idea was left Wednesday with the district office of the Army Corps of Engineers that oversees Cuyahoga River dredging.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency would have to be involved in using material taken from the bottom of the river to build an island, agency spokeswoman Kara Allison said. The process would start with an application from Cleveland.
The Cuyahoga, which has a history of pollution, is perhaps best known nationally as the river that caught on fire. An oil slick burned in the 1970s.
"There could be material in sediments dredged that could be contaminated over years of industrial pollution," Allison said. "We would have to consider whether these materials could be used to create an island."
She said the river is "dramatically improved" compared with its condition about 30 years ago. It has a number of thriving fish species, although the Ohio EPA still suggests limits on eating the river's fish.
Once such a project does start, it could take years, even decades, to see an island in water about 25 feet deep, about a fourth of a mile off shore. But Allison said the Ohio EPA had a good experience with a Cleveland proposal a few years ago to use debris from the demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium to build an underwater fishing reef in Lake Erie.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)