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Published: Tuesday, 6/10/2008

Ohio lawmakers to end deadlock on water compact

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Lawmakers have struck a deal expected to take the multistate Great Lakes compact out of Senate dry dock and make Ohio the seventh state to approve it this week.

"This is good news for private property rights and for the Great Lakes," said House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering). "We got it done."

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is designed to present the eight states bordering the lakes as a united front against diversion of water in the future to parched areas of the country.

The unprecedented agreement appeared to be in danger of sinking in Ohio less than two weeks ago when House Democrats balked at a proposed measure asking voters on Nov. 4 to write private property water rights that have been recognized by the courts into the Ohio Constitution.

Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland) had insisted on the constitutional language to ensure that nothing in the compact could later be construed to undermine the rights of property owners to the "reasonable use" of water on, under, or running through their land.

Mr. Husted and House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty (D., Columbus) said they've agreed on a plan to protect private property rights.

The Senate had tied the proposed constitutional amendment to the compact as a condition for its passage.

The Senate passed the amendment and sent it to the House, but kept the compact itself in committee as insurance.

When the proposed constitutional amendment failed to get the super-majority vote needed in the House, the Great Lakes compact remained moored in committee.

The House had twice overwhelmingly passed the compact in two consecutive legislative sessions, but the measure has yet to see a Senate vote.

Time was running out because both chambers plan to recess for the summer this week.

Ms. Beatty said the proposed constitutional amendment will be revisited on the House floor today. It will then be changed to address the concerns of her caucus that the amendment went too far.

At issue was a provision stating that no other provision of the Ohio Constitution could trump the section on water rights.

"We didn't want to find that six years later we had opened up Pandora's Box," said Ms. Beatty. "It could conceivably be very embarrassing to the state of Ohio."

Ohio and Pennsylvania are the only Great Lakes states whose legislatures have not ratified the compact.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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