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Lonz Winery buildings will remain closed


The winery's grounds and marina on Middle Bass Island will be open this summer.

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MIDDLE BASS ISLAND - Last year at this time weekend revelers could look forward to sipping wine at the Lonz Winery. This year the site remains closed following a terrace collapse July 1.

All the buildings on the 124-acre winery property, now owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, will be closed to the public this summer. But people can walk the grounds and use its marina - just like any other state property.

State officials next month will release a draft master plan on how the property could be used as a state park, including the possibility of creating trails, a beach, campground sites, and a park office. Public hearings will follow. A final master plan won't be completed until early fall.

Construction is not expected before 2004, and the only change to the property this summer will be the addition of portable restrooms and 52 public boat slips in mid-June. Park officials plan to charge a fee at the marina, said Scott Doty, manager of the Lake Erie Islands State Park.

One person, Matt Reighard, 29, of Columbus, was killed and 75 were injured when a concrete terrace caved in at the Lonz Winery, sending 100 people about 20-feet below into an empty cellar.

Seventeen lawsuits have been filed in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court against Paramount Distillers, Inc., and its subsidiary, Mantey-Mon Ami-Lonz Wineries, Inc., in connection with the accident. Before the accident, the state had agreed to pay for $6.75 million to buy the 137-year-old historic winery and surrounding land for use as a state park. The deal was finalized in January.

The property has glacial grooves and a mile of undeveloped Lake Erie shoreline. It is within walking distance of two breweries and a privately owned campground on the southernmost tip of the 758-acre island.

The state has no plans to open the old winery this summer, Mr. Doty said. The building, which was closed by the county building inspector after the accident, is not expected to be used again as a winery. Philip Miller, a state planner who is working on the draft plan, said the document will address the future of the winery “to a point.” State officials must repair the building before it can be reused.

Following several meetings with residents last fall, Mr. Miller said many people asked state officials to focus on smaller-scale developments on the land. Others pushed for overnight accommodations, such as a public campground.

Mr. Miller said public hearings will be held again this summer in a variety of locations, similar to the format that was used last year.

“The master plan really does identify trends and the public's concerns,” he said. “We want to give the public an opportunity to respond to the draft plan, to what we've found so far.”

After the plan is finalized, the ODNR still would need to apply for state money to pay for construction projects.

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