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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2004

Newfound Putnam port authority poses problems for similar group

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Putnam County officials are scratching their heads over the discovery that the county has had a port authority for 17 years.

As far as anyone knows, a board never was appointed, meetings never were held, and projects never were pursued.

Still, the fact that an agency intended to foster economic growth in the county exists presents problems for the village of Leipsic and Van Buren Township, which formed their own port authority in 2001. Legally, only one port authority can exist in the same jurisdiction, so one of them has to go.

"One issue muddying the water is that ours was created legally and as far as we can tell it was just laying in a resolution," said Putnam County Commissioner Tom Price. "The other port authority was created evidently invalidly, but they've had a board and have had meetings."

While the commissioners' first thought was to dissolve the never-active port authority, Mr. Price said the board is gathering information about what role a port authority could play in Putnam County before it makes a decision.

"We want to make sure that what we do is best for the county," Mr. Price said.

Jim Russell, Leipsic village administrator, questioned whether the county port authority truly exists.

"I guess the mere fact that they passed a resolution saying they were going to create a port authority - if that constitutes a port authority remains to be seen," Mr. Russell said.

Leipsic and neighboring Van Buren Township decided to form a port authority three years ago when they were working with an ethanol company that was looking for a site on which to build a plant. A port authority could help extend rail lines and make infrastructure improvements for the project.

Then-Putnam County Prosecutor Dan Gerschutz drew up the legislation and other papers necessary to create the port authority. Plans for the ethanol plant never materialized, but the six-member port board still meets once a month to work on economic development projects, Mr. Russell said.

"They're saying if theirs is legal, ours can't be," he said. "We're not doing anything until

we determine theirs is a legal port authority then if that's the case then what we have and what we've been doing - well I guess it's a good thing we never got a project going."

The 1987 resolution creating the county port authority stated it was being done to coordinate economic development efforts. But even when local and state officials were working on incentive proposals like the one that lured USX Corp. and Kobe Steel USA to Leipsic in 1990 to build the Pro-Tec Coating plant in Leipsic, the port authority was not involved.

Commissioner Price said former commissioner David Young, who signed the 1987 resolution, "didn't really remember doing it. He just said, 'Oh, I'm sure we did it just to help the county, but evidently nothing happened.'‚óŹ"

Ottawa Municipal Director Jack Williams wonders whether an established port authority might have helped the village in its efforts to retain or replace LG.Philips Displays, when it began making plans to close its Ottawa plant. He favors activating a countywide port authority.

Until the matter is settled, Mr. Russell said the Leipsic-Van Buren Port Authority plans to meet as usual May 21. The board, which is looking to expand its jurisdiction, has invited representatives from other Putnam County villages and townships who are interested in joining that port authority.

"It was the feeling of the majority of people we talked to that they wanted a port authority that was controlled [by] grass roots and not by the county commissioners," he said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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