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Published: Sunday, 5/25/2008

$4 million allocation to aid Middle Bass marina project

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Environmentalists worry about the state's plans for Middle Bass Island. Some fear that unplanned development will result. Environmentalists worry about the state's plans for Middle Bass Island. Some fear that unplanned development will result.
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COLUMBUS - The Lake Erie water snakes might not be happy, but a $4 million infusion of state cash is about to launch construction of an expanded modern marina on Middle Bass Island into high gear.

The good news - in the eyes of the Department of Natural Resources - is that the improvements will make Ohio's newest state park more accessible to the public.

The bad news - in the eyes of Audubon Ohio - is that the improvements will make Ohio's newest state park more accessible to the public.

"Besides the immediate impact on the site, which they claim they are mitigating, we are concerned that this will lead to unplanned development on the island, which will change the character of the island for wildlife, habitat, and the other people on the island," said John Ritzenthaler, director of habitat conservation for Audubon Ohio.

"We understand there are folks who would favor development and others on the other side, but we think the state should be in the position of protecting the habitat that is rare to the island," he said.

The $16 million, state-federal project, which will include renovation of the old Lonz Winery buildings, involves removal of a central manmade marine peninsula to open up the marina to handle up to 320 boats.

The peninsula, created from material dredged when the marina was created in the 1960s, had become another home over the years to the Lake Erie water snake, which is unique to the islands and has been federally designated as a "threatened" species.

In 2000, the state bought 124 acres on the southern part of the island, including more than a mile of uninterrupted shoreline, for $6.75 million from the owners of the old Lonz Winery. Once a tourism draw but now shuttered, the winery was the site of a 2000 terrace collapse that killed one person and injured 75.

The Ohio House last week included $4 million for the marina project in the $1.3 billion wish list of bricks-and-mortar projects that it sent to the Senate. The bill is expected to reach Gov. Ted Strickland this week, containing hundreds of projects statewide.

The package holds $3 million for dredging and other flood abatement efforts on the Blanchard River, $2.2 million for Toledo's arena project, and tens of millions in improvements on the region's college campuses. But at $4 million, the Middle Bass appropriation stands out as one of the bigger projects in northwest Ohio.

On the southeast side of the island near the yacht club and north of the ferry stop, the marina closed last fall and won't reopen until next year. In the meantime, brush is being cleared, and efforts are under way to relocate the water snakes from the peninsula and other construction areas.

"I've been an engineer quite a while, and I'd never run into something like this," said David Mohr, chief of ODNR's Division of Engineering for 22 years. "They installed a [10,000-foot-long] silt fence with the fabric buried in the ground and sticking up 2 to 3 feet around the entire marina construction area. As the snakes come out of hibernation, they've been captured and relocated outside the fenced-in area."

Plans involve rounding out the harbor by removing the center peninsula. The marina entrance would be moved more to the north. A small sand beach, fishing area, and new harbor master's building are planned, as are additional rest rooms, picnic shelters, and replacement of a temporary shower building with a permanent structure.

"All of our projects involve extraordinary compliance associated with minimizing impact," Mr. Mohr said. "There's a considerable amount of environmental restoration work. We can't say everybody's overjoyed, but I think we've done a good job being sensitive to the location."

Mr. Mohr designed the new marina at Maumee State Park but did not design the Middle Bass marina.

ODNR expects to spend $5.3 billion to excavate the marina basin; $3.3 million to build new docks; $3.3 million to install utilities; $3 million to build a new harbor master's office, rest rooms, and staff housing, and $1 million to eventually renovate the historic winery buildings. The project will be funded by other state funds.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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