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Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Personnel changes approved to handle watershed workload

22 staff will help farmers manage manure better

By Nancy Allen
CELINA - More manpower is needed at the Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District office to handle a heavier workload due to farm conservation efforts in the Grand Lake Watershed.
SWCD board members OK'd personnel changes during a meeting Wednesday.
The board passed a motion to move part-time technician Charles Heckler to full time and to restore district administrator/education specialist Nikki Hawk and administrative assistant Karen Balster to full-time status. Hawk and Balster had their hours cut previously due to budget shortfalls; Heckler had been part-time.
The SWCD also plans to hire two full-time nutrient management technicians to start in November. In addition, two staff members from USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and a state environmental specialist are to come on board in November, Hawk said.
Hawk said the SWCD office is experiencing some growing pains as more staff continue to come. Eight desks have been added to the SWCD office and five to the Mercer County Farm Service Agency office next door.
"We will be going from a staff of eight in this office to 22 between our state and federal partners," Hawk said.
Roughly $4.5 million from various state and federal programs have been allocated to the area in the last year to pay farmers to install practices that stem the flow of nutrients feeding Grand Lake's toxic blue-green algae. An army of state and federal employees have been amassed in the watershed to get the funds spent and practices put in place.
The two nutrient management technicians' primary duties will be to implement new manure management rules for the watershed that go into effect in 2012. The technicians' salaries will be paid for with funds from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Funding for their salaries has been approved for at least one year, Hawk said.
The new rules will require every livestock farmer who generates or uses at least 350 tons of manure annually to have a nutrient management plan. It also prohibits manure application between Dec. 15 and March 1 without prior approval or anytime the ground is frozen and/or snow-covered.
The rules will be phased in and become effective by March 1, 2012. From now until the effective date, farmers must follow USDA guidelines for applying manure on frozen and/or snow-covered ground.
The two NRCS employees will work with Steve McDevitt, an NRCS employee who was brought in the end of July to help farmers develop and implement whole farm conservation plans. Two years of funding have been approved for McDevitt and the other two NRCS positions.
The state environmental specialist will cover an 18-county area in southwest Ohio, Hawk said. This will be a permanent state position, but the first few years the employee will spend 80-90 percent of his/her time in the Grand Lake Watershed. ODNR funds will pay the employee's salary.
"If there is any enforcement like a manure complaint in violation of the rules, particularly after 2012, and the person does not want to cooperate voluntarily, then this person would take the lead on enforcement," said Ed Everman, program specialist with ODNR's division of soil and wate. "If it would happen to go to court and if there is any litigation, that person would handle that."
Board member on Wednesday also:
• Passed a motion to accept a memorandum of understanding between the SWCD and ODNR to pay $160,000 to the Mercer SWCD to hire the nutrient management technicians, restore the full-time pay of Hawk and Balster and buy equipment, computers, phones and a vehicle for the technicians.
• Passed a motion accepting the job description of and agreeing to advertise for the nutrient management technician spots once the memorandum is approved by the state.
• Reviewed and accepted an Aug. 13 complaint on an over-application of hog manure on 40 acres from the Roger Homan farm at 3095 Philothea Road. The manure polluted 6 miles of Little Beaver Creek and a tributary leading to the creek. Technician Theresa Dirksen said she was working with Homan on a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan for the farm when the incident occurred.
• Scheduled the next SWCD meeting for 8 a.m. Oct. 13 at the SWCD office in Celina.
Additional online story on this date
GRAND LAKE - A recent recommendation to use aluminum sulfate (alum) to fight Grand Lake's blue-green algae problem was nixed 30 years ago by environmental experts. [More]
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