by John Ritzenthaler, Audubon Ohio
In the aftermath of SWANCC, we sometimes look at functions and values of wetlands and other land differently. Take, for example, a former Confined Dredge Disposal Facility (CDDF) on Lake Erie called Dike 14 by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is human-made land jutting out into the lake just four miles east of downtown Cleveland.
Regulations in the Clean Water Act of 1972 required that polluted sediments dredged from the Cuyahoga River be contained. The Dike 14 impoundment is one of those containment facilities. Placing riprap dikes to wall off a section of the lake created the impoundment. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Army Corps of Engineers added dredged material to the impoundment, creating extensive mudflat habitat for shorebirds. The area has not been filled in evenly so a variety of habitats have resulted— both wetland type and upland type. For a number of years (until recently when dumping dredge, soil, and concrete over prime bird habitat has resumed) there has been no dumping of dredged material resulting in ecological succession with the establishment of field and pioneer forest species, as well as a maturing conifer stand. During its history this dredge site has become a bird magnet on an urban shoreline. There is no other good stopover site for a 60-mile expanse of shore. It is critical to healthy bird populations that use the central Lake Erie Basin.
Audubon has designated the 88-acre Dike 14 as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Over the past twenty-three years, 268 species of birds have been documented at Dike 14. The site has become an important staging area for tens of thousands of migratory birds each year. Currently, the area is considered the premier migratory staging site for sparrows in northeastern Ohio. It has become a winter roosting site for rare owls including Northern Saw-whet Owl, Barn Owl, Long-eared Owl, and Short-eared Owl. Fifty-two of 66 species from Audubon Ohio’s Species of Concern list have used Dike 14. The site has hosted 23 of 29 species from Ohio’s Endangered Species List.
The Corps has determined that the dike is full and has turned it over to the Cleveland Port Authority. Eventually the City of Cleveland will take possession. Apparently the city will then lease it to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for park development. The long-term issue of how ODNR will use or develop it is a big question. There has been a long-standing plan to develop some type of mixed-use recreational park on the site. A recent proposal surfaced when a plan to create a manicured sculpture garden on the site was unveiled. In the short-term, the Port Authority has apparently decided that there is some “excess capacity” at the site where they can add more fill. A plan to fill it completely and level it off will destroy the existing wildlife values of the site, including critical stopover habitats for migratory birds. A coalition is working to raise awareness about this site and to promote a public process where the essential nature of the variety of wetland and upland habitats and their importance for migratory birds is acknowledged.