Fortification of hillside in Ohio to avoid collapse

Irishtown Bend rendering with shipping visible Credit Image by CMG Landscape Architecture. Credit: Courtesy of LAND Studio

A crack in a hill is jeopardising bulk ship access to an industrial area on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River

At first glance, growing cracks in the pavements of sinking roads on an abandoned, tree-lined hillside in Cleveland, Ohio, may not seem to have anything to do with marine shipping, cargoes, or the Port of Cleveland. That is far from the truth.

This hillside is Irishtown Bend, which is a steep area of land overlooking the Cuyahoga River, a tributary of Lake Erie. Named after a long-gone cluster of homes of Irish immigrants, the cracked hill is the subject of deep concern for nearby residential buildings, utilities, and roads; the Port of Cleveland; and other maritime shipping and industrial stakeholders.

Cracks and subsidence, caused by decades of poor drainage compromising loose materials, mean that the hillside is in danger of collapsing into the river’s busy navigation channel. “If the hillside were to fail – and it is currently sliding into the river slowly but surely – we could see a stoppage of traffic as long as a year or two, in terms of just getting everything cleared,” warned Jade Davis, vice-president of external affairs for the
Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority. “Economically it would be devastating.”

The port authority, which administers the steel and bulk cargoes port, is leading a charge to respond to the gathering risk. Its aim is to protect navigation while providing benefits to city residents. Once the hillside is stabilised, a recreational space to be called the Irishtown Bend Riverfront Park would be created, with the park possibly featuring an amphitheatre and community garden.

The waterway is a 7.6-metre-deep, 9.5-kilometre-long federal navigation channel that runs from the mouth of Cuyahoga River at Lake Erie to an industrial area that includes the ArcelorMittal Cleveland steel mill. Davis said that navigating the channel requires “experienced pilots because of the bends and curves”.
“Irishtown Bend is one of the trickiest areas,” Davis explained, because the river narrows at that point and “because of the topography on both sides of the river”. This convoluted geography mean that the instability of Irishtown Bend “severely threatens” the navigation along that section of Cuyahoga River.

Bulk in transit

Industrial entities and businesses are scattered along the channel. Davis said about 9 million metric tonnes of liquid and dry bulk cargoes move along the channel annually, including at least 2.7 million metric tonnes of iron ore headed to the ArcelorMittal Cleveland steel mill; petroleum products to oil companies; and road salt, cement, and aggregate operations to construction and other companies supplied solely or in large part by river shipments.

Shipping along the channel reportedly is worth about USD3 billion a year, which would be hurt by a collapse of the hillside, Davis said. A collapse of the hillside would also cause flooding and ruin fish habitat, as well as recreational boating and rowing activities, along the river.

He argued that virtually none of the products delivered to those sites could be adequately moved by truck, as the business sites supplied by Cuyahoga River are close to downtown, resulting in truck traffic and emissions issues and road-wear problems. All of these factors would add up to “something that I am sure residents just would not tolerate”.

There is a rail option, however, it is uncertain if it is viable. “Most of the rail in that corridor is spoken for as far as capacity and the ability to take on new cargoes, so that is problematic on various levels,” he acknowledged.
The Irishtown Bend hillside project has received funding from several stakeholders: a USD9 million US Department of Transportation grant; USD5 million from the state of Ohio; nearly USD7 million from a local sewer district; USD1 million from the city of Cleveland; and approximately USD1 million from the port.

The port’s contribution does not include the considerable amount of time its staff has taken over the years to identify the project, research solutions, advocate for, and project engineered and fundraised for, Davis added.
Construction is slated to start in the third or fourth quarter of 2020. Altogether, the project now has USD23 million in hand and is in design for the first phase of construction, including a system of bulkheads for the hillside. The design contract, worth USD3.4 million, has been awarded to Osborn Engineering.

Pile up

Construction work at the site will see multiple piles installed. An exact number or specific type is unknown, but it is thought that the piles would have to be driven 7.6 m below the seabed and thus average 15.2 m in length, combined with sheet-metal sections to fortify roughly 760 m of the hillside right at the water’s edge.
Davis explained that an excavator on a barge will prepare the riverbank for construction, and that some dredging at the site is anticipated. The work will be co-ordinated with cargo vessel traffic.

However, the work of the port and other stakeholders is not yet complete. Another USD5–7 million is needed and being sought to fully stabilise the hillside and then to create fish habitats. Construction of the fish habitat will be done along the same stretch of the river, probably in the form of so-called ‘green bulkheads’ designed to provide hiding places and habitat for the fish.

Davis mentioned that the port has worked for years on providing fish habitats and remediating various sections of the Cuyahoga River. Once the hillside is stabilised, other entities would take the lead for the Irishtown Bend Riverfront Park conceptualised for the hillside. This complex project, according to him, is taking “a multipronged approach from various agencies, and we are just glad to be able to get everyone into the room and help lead the charge, and everyone came”.

All told, the Irishtown Bend initiative shows how an urban port is marshalling support for an effort at the core of cargo operations and community aspirations. “For us, this is about leading a project that is not only protecting the river channel, but it is also developing new park space, providing waterfront access and waterfront recreational space to entire communities – Cleveland’s Ohio City and Tremont – that never had such access to the lake or any waterfront at all,” Davis concluded.