BRYAN — There are two reasons why congressional hopeful Michael Galbraith could avoid the Michindoh Aquifer controversy that has gripped residents of Williams County and eight other counties across Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana if he wanted to do that — and he doesn’t.
First, he’s a resident of Maumee. Maumee, Perrysburg, and Sylvania are the largest communities that stand to benefit if Pioneer Village Mayor Ed Kidston succeeds with his plan of having his company, Artesian of Pioneer, someday tap into that aquifer and pipe water miles away to the western Toledo area.
Second, it’s not a federal issue — at least not yet.
Although the U.S. Geological Survey has offered to do an initial 16-month study for $100,000 and monitor test wells for 10 years or more, the decisions on permitting are up to the state of Ohio — and people such as Mr. Galbraith’s political opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) are quick to yield to the state for that reason.
BLADE BRIEFING: Fight over Michindoh Aquifer proposal
“Congressman Latta heard from a number of constituents on this issue and immediately reached out to the U.S. EPA to ask what the federal implications were for the proposed plan. He was then informed that it falls under the jurisdiction of the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The U.S. Geological Survey is available as a resource for local governments to study the Michindoh Aquifer,” Drew Griffin, Mr. Latta’s communications director, said in a prepared statement.
But Mr. Galbraith told about 35 people attending a town hall at the Bryan Community Center on Tuesday night he doesn’t want to see Mr. Kidston’s plan go through.
Stopping it is the right thing to do, said Mr. Galbraith, a former Republican who is running against Mr. Latta as a Democrat.
“This is more of a regional issue, but in a way it's not,” Mr. Galbraith told the audience. “The issue is how we treat all of our natural resources. We cannot allow our public resources to be desecrated for political reasons.”
If Mr. Kidston’s plan is allowed to proceed, then “the people where I live are going to take their eye off Lake Erie and say they don't care about the algal blooms any longer.”
While Mr. Galbraith also talked about how Republican tax cuts have driven up the federal deficit and his frustrations over trying to get Mr. Latta to debate him, he and others at the event spent a fair amount of time talking about how they can protect the aquifer from long-distance transfers.
Adam Papin, a Democrat running for the state Senate District 1 seat, said he believes it’s inevitable that test wells are going to be drilled. He is running against Republican Robert McColley, who was appointed to the position last December following the resignation of former Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite.
Mr. Papin said it’s imperative for western Ohio residents to seek support from Toledo-area lawmakers in getting Toledo and its suburbs back at the bargaining table for a regional water plan that would leave the Michindoh Aquifer alone.
Ohio’s “reasonable use” statute for groundwater withdrawals isn’t much help until there is evidence of harm, he said.
“Getting [compensated for] economic damages doesn't do you any good if you're out of water,” he said. “Is there a way we can get a reasonable use standard that is preemptive?”
Janet Breneman, a Democrat from West Unity, Ohio, who is running for the District 81 Ohio House of Representatives seat, agrees Ohio’s groundwater laws are too soft. She is running against incumbent Ohio Rep. James Hoops, who was appointed to that seat early this year when it was vacated by Mr. McColley’s appointment to the Ohio Senate.
“Some states have laws that protect aquifers. We don’t. We have a tort law. We can rally. We can educate people,” Ms. Breneman told the crowd.
“This is our land. This is our water,” she said. “What gives them the right to go beneath our properties and take what is rightfully ours.”
She said she believes local ownership of the aquifer goes “straight down to China.”
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