Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Group explores setup change

Legal status may net more money

By Nancy Allen

Kelly Hathaway of Celina fishes behind the Mercer County Sportsman Club on Monda. . .

GRAND LAKE - The Lake Restoration Commission (LRC) may change its makeup, but the group's goal of a cleaner Grand Lake will remain the same.
Exploratory discussions are under way to decide if the LRC, which has raised about $550,000 for technology and scientific consultation to help restore the lake, should become a legally-organized entity. This would give the group more opportunities for government funding.
Formed in late January, the LRC is a volunteer coalition of individuals from government entities and private organizations from Mercer and Auglaize counties. Its members represent economic development, watershed, farming, tourism and state park interests. It was formed to address the toxic blue-green algae blooms that nearly shut down the 13,500-acre lake this summer.
"Currently, we are an ad hoc, all-volunteer group," said Jared Ebbing, Mercer County's economic development director and a LRC member. "We feel we have hit the next phase in development and it is more than worthwhile to start looking into something more official and how we take that next step."
The LRC is functional, but has limitations because it is not a legally organized group, Ebbing said. If it becomes one, it would be able to lobby the state for the region's needs and apply for possible incentives and grants that could help the two-county area.
Milt Miller, the LRC's fundraising chairman, noted the LRC "doesn't exist legally on paper." Its grant funding had to be submitted through township and county offices.
Ebbing and commissioners from Auglaize and Mercer counties recently discussed hiring a firm or attorney to research and help determine the best organizational structure. No decision has been made on where the funds to pay for legal help would come.
"We need to engage with a firm who can help us, perhaps an attorney or legal view," he said. "We need some help on what's best suited for this region."
He said the group would not be a conservancy or a port authority, but perhaps a hybrid that would use some of the same structure of both but be unique to the watershed.
Legally organizing the entity likely would take more than a few months. It also would need approval from the state legislature because exists no prototype.
"Whatever this district is called, we would like it to include a layer that would encourage investment and entrepreneurial groups to come in and test not only ecological equipment, but also equipment that could help the agribusiness community and do it some good," Ebbing said.
The lake's toxic blue-green algae is fed by excess nutrients that run off mostly farmland, the largest land-use in the 59,000-acre watershed. Phosphorous, found in manure and commercial fertilizers, contributes most to algae blooms.
The thick, foul-smelling algae led the state to place a no contact with the water advisory on the lake this summer. The advisory was downgraded to allow boating after toxin levels dropped dramatically in the last several weeks.
Ebbing said the LRC is proceeding carefully and doesn't want to create a new group if it is unnecessary. If a new group is created, the LRC would disband, he said. From the start, the LRC was meant to be a starting point for something more permanent and organized, he noted.
"At the end of the day, the positives have to outweigh the negatives, and it has to be done for the right reasons and benefit the region as a whole without creating an unnecessary layer," Ebbing said.
Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin and Auglaize County Commissioner John Bergman said commissioners want discussions to continue so an informed decision can be made.
"Until we can find some legal mind who can help us put some of this stuff together, I can't say what we're going to end up with," Laffin said. "But I think we need to explore it."
Auglaize County Commissioner Doug Spencer agreed, adding that both counties' commissioners will meet Thursday in Wapakoneta with a representative from the Columbus law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease to gather information.
"I can't say county commissioners will ultimately delve into making this happen, but we want to hear how this may work and how an entity might be created to help the region and lake," Spencer said.

Public meeting about Grand Lake:
What: Public meeting to update efforts to restore Grand Lake
Where: Wright State University-Lake Campus' James F. Dicke hall
When: Oct. 20; 6:30 p.m. doors open, technology displays; main presentation is 7-9.
Details: Those attending can view displays explaining technology and research being used to restore the lake. Consulting firms and organizations associated with the technology will be on hand to answer questions.
A master plan for the lake will be reviewed. Strategies and funds being pursued locally to restore the health and economic vitality of the region also will be discussed.
Grand Lake Restoration Commission (LRC) officials will discuss the possibility of changing the LRC into an official, legally organized entity.
Additional online stories on this date
NEW BREMEN - An economist with the Federal Reserve System believes the U.S. economy is improving, even though the slower than expected rebound continues to be a source of concern for many. [More]
Flyers win league title for seventh time
MARIA STEIN - A special group of seniors celebrated in style on Tuesday in their final match at The Hangar, as the Marion Local Flyers wrapped up their second straight Midwest Athletic Conference title with a 25-15, 25-15, and 25-20 win over the Versailles Tigers. [More]
Subscriber and paid stories on this date
Joy over proposed salary increases was short-lived Tuesday as Mercer County employees learned they'll also net increases in health insurance costs.
Mercer County commissioners are seeking private donations to beef up the staff at the local OSU Extension office.
The commissioners need to raise a
VAN WERT - An area man accused of strangling to death his 84-year-old grandmother is claiming insanity in his defense.
Shawn M. Jones, 36, of Riche
NEW BREMEN - With an estimated $625,000 in anticipated sewer construction projects looming, village council members Tuesday night authorized village administrator Wayne York to apply for a grant or loan through the Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC).
With shorter days and deer hunting and mating seasons under way, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) warns drivers to be extra cautious.
The number of crashes between vehicles and the estimated 600,000 deer throughout the state typically triples in October, according to ODOT.
FORT RECOVERY - School officials are looking into the possibility of equipping students with their own laptop to use at school.
Superintendent Pat Niekamp broached the subject on Tuesday evening at the regular school board meeting.
CELINA - Superior Auto has moved from 805 N. Main St. to a larger location at 1251 Myers Road, across from the Galleria.
The business sells previously owned cars, trucks and SUVs and provides financing.
Celina business stays with fundamentals
CELINA - Orchard Tree Family Restaurant is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month with many long-time customers and staff.
Built by the late Ken Esmonde, the Celina restaurant has been owned by Jon and Deb Warner of Celina since 1998.
Local Roundup
Compiled by Gary R. Rasberry
St. Marys captured its second Western Buckeye League girls soccer title in the last three seasons with a 4-1 win at Kenton on Tuesday night in the regular-season finale for the Roughriders.
CELINA - Like in most sports, soccer is a game of opportunities. It's what you do with them that makes the difference.
The Celina girls soccer team learned full well about that on Tuesday night in a must-win Western Buckeye League match with co-leader Ottawa-Glandorf.
LIMA - Winning the Western Buckeye League title is the goal every season for the Celina volleyball team and the Bulldogs are just one win away from accomplishing that goal once again.
Computer Points
With the seventh week of the high school football regular season now in the books, we will use this article to show what happened last weekend, then another article tomorrow to project what we might expect to happen by the end of the season.
COLDWATER - The Parkway Panthers used a great hitting attack to key a 25-12, 25-22 and 26-24 win over the Coldwater Cavaliers in Midwest Athletic Conference volleyball action on Tuesday night.