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Ohio mulls water issues

Lawmaker proposes infrastructure bond issue

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Village Church member Jackie Quinones, bottom left, helps collect bottled water for Flint at the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association parking lot in Toledo in January.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
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COLUMBUS — The images of bottled water being trucked into Flint, Mich., and the small northeast Ohio community of Sebring because of lead contamination in drinking water is fueling talk in Columbus about a bond issue to replace Ohio’s aging underground pipes.

“It’s just another example of why this investment in infrastructure upgrades or replacements, whatever a community wants to use these funds for, is necessary,” Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Boardman), said. “More and more examples like this will be brought to light. It’s not going to get better if we turn a blind eye to it.”

Talks have gone on for months about a $1 billion borrowing package to address piping, treatment plants, stormwater drainage, and other concrete and equipment programs along with further efforts to alleviate toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie, the Ohio River, and other waterways.

Mr. Schiavoni’s proposal, which focuses on infrastructure, would spend $100 million a year for 10 years. The first legislative hearing is set for Feb. 9.

Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), meanwhile, is mulling a proposal, not yet introduced, to focus more directly on Lake Erie and other state waters that struggle with algae such as those that contaminated Toledo’s drinking water in 2014.

Mr. Gardner has talked about increased testing, monitoring, and research; alleviating fertilizer runoff, and alternative uses for dredged sediment. It remains unclear how much of the elements from Mr. Schiavoni’s proposal might be incorporated.

“It’s too early to rule out any particular idea,” Mr. Gardner said. “The most important thing is to get stakeholders in the room and see if we can find a way to agree to put something on the ballot in November.”

Lawmakers must vote by August to put a question on the ballot. But they would have to pass a resolution before summer recess.

“If not, then we have to wait for another year and go through another season of stormwater runoff this summer and deal with E-coli, algal blooms on Lake Erie, and the problems we have on the [Ohio] river,” Mr. Schiavoni said.

The bond issue would be on top of legislation in the last year or so to cut overuse or improper use of chemical fertilizers and manure that feed the algae.

Gov. John Kasich has been cool to a borrowing package.

“Under the governor’s leadership, Ohio has invested significant resources to improve water quality,” spokesman Joe Andrews said. “Ohio has spent more than $3.5 billion in the past few years to tackle key infrastructure issues and improve water quality.”

Because of the Sebring problems, Mr. Schiavoni has introduced a bill to require faster warnings from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency when drinking water is contaminated. Two regional EPA officials have been suspended.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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