LORAIN, Ohio - A federal probe is under way into illegal dumping along Lake Erie's shoreline that has continued for decades, as Ohio regulatory agencies claim lack of enforcement authority.
In Ohio, you can be fined up to $500 for tossing trash out of the window -- not so for Ohio's most precious natural resource. Our exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation found everything from road debris to tons of concrete being dumped for years all along Lake Erie, without a single fine ever being issued.
In Lorain, homeowners say they have been complaining for years as debris continues to spread and destroy what was once beach and natural coastline.
"This came in from the 1970s," homeowner Ron Bloomingdale said, who looks out his backdoor at what appears to be beachfront filled with concrete and road debris.
Just last month, another homeowner began taking photos as truckloads of debris were being dumped behind a Lorain apartment complex a few blocks away from their home. Our camera caught one truck driver with another load ready to dump before driving away with a truckload of concrete and road debris still onboard.
No one knows who left all of it behind over decades.
"It keeps piling up and up and there's nothing you can do with it," Bloomingdale said. And homeowners complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
Our investigation found lakeshore dumping is not an issue regulated by Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency.
Ohio's Department of Natural Resources Division of Coastal Management said permits are required for any type of lakeshore structures, including dumping, but concedes it lacks enforcement authority.
But our investigation did catch the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that confirmed it is "now investigating whether federal law has been complied with."
Harold Keppner oversees the monitoring and enforcement section in the corps regulatory branch and said compliance with the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act is required when it comes to any dumping involving Lake Erie.
"Anything short of that certainly would be a project that we are not going to permit or authorize," Keppner said.
This latest concrete debris actually came from a Lorain street project, just a few blocks away from city hall. Lorain Mayor Chas Ritenauer said while he was unaware that city road debris was being sold off and dumped, he promised the city will step up oversight.
"It's not right and it's not allowable," Ritenauer said.
Meanwhile, the apartment complex owner, Madison Development Company, declined to return our calls or emails. The construction company involved said it believed Madison Development had obtain legal permits to dump.
Both the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the property owner failed to obtain permits. The property owner could be ultimately required to remove, modify or work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bring violations into compliance with federal law.