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Published: Friday, 11/23/2007

4 counties mull joint port authority

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Defiance, Fulton, Henry, and Paulding counties are miles removed from any commercially navigable waterways, nor do they have any commercial airports - but they soon could have a joint port authority.

Officials from the four counties are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Napoleon about that possibility, which would be driven primarily by an interest in pooling resources for economic development functions that Ohio law assigns to port authorities, one of the idea's chief proponents said.

Defiance County recently established its own port authority, but is interested in discussing cooperative possibilities before getting too far along in setting up a stand-alone agency, said Tim Small, president and executive director of the Defiance Area Chamber of Commerce and the nascent port authority's chairman.

"Before we design our own shape, we want to see if we can lock arms with our neighbors," Mr. Small said, adding that he'd like to persuade Williams County to join in the discussion as well.

Rich Myers and Joe Short, commissioners from Henry and Fulton counties, respectively, agreed that multicounty cooperation could be beneficial for all.

"Everybody seems to understand the importance of regionalism," Mr. Short said. "There are a lot of people that could benefit."

Mr. Myers said a multicounty port authority could be "a first line of marketing" to get prospects interested in the area, after which the marketing of specific development sites would be done by the counties' individual community improvement corporations.

The four-county meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Henry County commissioners' office.

"There's no doubt we could stand on our own," but a regional effort could be much more lucrative for all involved, Mr. Small said. The issue arises now, he said, because U.S. 24 construction under way in the Maumee Valley is presenting "a huge opportunity" for economic development in the area.

While the largest port authorities typically manage transportation assets like airports, seaports, or rail terminals, under Ohio law, port authorities' proper activities extend far beyond those areas. Ohio port authorities may engage in "activities that enhance, foster, aid, provide, or promote transportation, economic development, housing, recreation, education, governmental operations, culture, or research within the jurisdiction of the port authority."

James Hartung, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said it doesn't concern him that some of the financing work his agency has done in the counties southwest and west of Toledo might be handled by another agency.

However, it might be time for the state to distinguish between port authorities that manage transportation facilities and those that don't, he said.

"Most of the port authorities in Ohio don't involve ports - they've been established for the purposes of financing and facilitating economic development," Mr. Hartung said.

He said the multicounty port authority will give the counties "a local-focus tool for their economic development."

Mr. Hartung added: "It's a logical consequence of the expansion of port authorities across the state."

The Toledo port authority has been criticized for providing financing help to projects outside of Lucas County, but says fees the agency gets for its services more than offset the staff time spent on those efforts.

One of the questions still to be addressed concerning a multicounty port authority, Mr. Short said, is budget and revenue sources.

But doing some of the economic development work locally instead of hiring the Toledo port authority will be one of the benefits of setting up such an agency, he added.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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