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Quarry's appeal fosters anger in Lucas County

SWANTON - About 150 angry residents - more than a third of whom claimed to have dry wells on their property - told state officials here last night what they thought about a quarry's plan to substantially draw down even more of the region's groundwater.

The issue has gotten a lot of attention in western Lucas County lately because the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has given Seaway Sand & Stone preliminary approval to discharge up to 6.7 million gallons of wastewater a day from their quarry at 11330 Airport Hwy. in Swanton Township, near Toledo Express Airport. That's 23 times the firm's present limit of 290,000 gallons a day.

Agency officials said they recently learned that the quarry has been exceeding its discharge limit. It ordered Seaway to stop exceeding the current limit pending final approval of the company's application.

The frustration level rose when it was made clear - over and over - that they were talking to the wrong agency.

The EPA announced at the outset of the hearing that it has no jurisdiction over the amount of groundwater that quarries take in - only the quality of the wastewater that's discharged.

The parameters they set for the discussion didn't sit well with residents from several townships who had taken up almost every bleacher seat and folding chair inside Swanton Township Elementary School's tiny auditorium.

They demanded answers, but repeatedly were told that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which was not represented at the hearing, has primary responsibility for draw-down issues.

Perhaps the most comforting piece of information residents got was an announcement from state Rep. Lynn Olman (R., Maumee), who said he has scheduled a meeting for elected officials from Lucas, Fulton, and Monroe counties to discuss the issue. That meeting, which is open to the public, has been set for 6:30 p.m., Oct. 23, in Springfield Township hall. Representatives from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Geological Survey are to attend.

At that meeting, officials from Lucas and Fulton counties are expected to decide whether they will pay to have a major study done about the effect that quarries have on existing groundwater supplies in this region. Monroe County has been invited because it recently commissioned a similar study of its own.

Wells have been running dry in Lucas, Fulton, and Monroe counties for years, with residents invariably pointing fingers at quarries. A worst-case scenario for Lucas County would be paying the enormous cost of having waterlines installed at every home and business in the county that is not currently serviced, Mr. Olman said.

Paul Ayres, a Monclova Township retiree, said he fears the Ohio EPA approval process is moving along too fast.

“The problem is, once Lynn [Ol- man] gets these people together, the Ohio EPA will have already issued [Seaway] a permit,” he said.

He and others said they are afraid the quarry's activities could leave residents high and dry in terms of drinking water, especially with the drought conditions of recent years.

When one resident asked the crowd how many of them had dry wells, more than a third raised their hands.

Jim Robinson, a 66-year-old beekeeper from Spencer Township, said the region's oak trees have been dying off because there isn't water deep enough for their roots in many places.

“We're going to have a desert 30 miles long and 100 miles wide if this keeps up,” Mr. Robinson, a former Spencer Township trustee, said.

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