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Toledo-area group says Lake Erie bill doesn't go far enough

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A seven-page letter signed by a Toledo-area regional water council takes issue with the Ohio General Assembly’s latest plan to help Lake Erie, claiming the $36 million it is expected to generate for better farming practices on a voluntary basis won’t likely yield enough results.

“While we appreciate the intent of the proposed funding appropriations, we are concerned that these proposals do not adequately target the sources of nutrient loading, but rather provide funds for equipment purchases and capital improvements using too broad of an approach,” according to the letter, dated last week and sent to Ohio Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) and Ohio Rep. Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton). 

“For too long,” the letter continued, “various funding programs intended to improve water quality and reduce nutrient loads in Lake Erie have funded costly projects with little accountability for the outcomes.”

The letter was written on behalf of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ Water Quality Council. Those who signed it included Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada, who chairs the water council, and Perrysburg Public Service Director Jon G. Eckel, who serves as vice chair. Four others did, too: consultants Tim Murphy and John Hull, who chair TMACOG’s watersheds and public water supply committees, respectively; Perrysburg Public Utilities Director Alice Godsey, who chairs TMACOG’s wastewater committee, and Kevin Laughlin, stormwater coordinator/GIS specialist in the Wood County Engineer’s Office, who chairs TMACOG’s stormwater coalition.

The letter includes extensive recommendations, starting with a system of accountability for ensuring that those receiving funds are indeed doing their part to help curb the western Lake Erie watershed’s massive phosphorus runoff. 

Both Mr. Gardner and Mr. Arndt said their joint bill now awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature addresses many of the recommendations raised by the regional water council.   

Mr. Gardner said he wanted something passed before the legislative recess, and that he felt there wouldn’t have been the votes for a more “prescriptive” approach. The bill identifies sub-watersheds that have the worst phosphorus releases, he said.

“We needed dollars put out there. We were striving for as much consensus as possible,” Mr. Gardner said. “ I don't think anyone in Columbus believed a major mandate bill was going to be passed before the session got out.”

Mr. Arndt said the joint bill, known as the Clean Lake 2020 Plan, should be viewed as the latest chapter of a continuing process to heal Lake Erie of its chronic algal blooms.

“This is not the last step,” he said.

The letter was sent two days after the legislation had been unanimously approved by both chambers. Mr. Gardner called the passage of the bill a “prime example of bipartisanship.” The Senate version was co-sponsored by Sean O’Brien (D., Cortland).

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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