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Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Ohio governor requests aid for lake businesses

Federal, low interest loans could be available soon

By Nancy Allen
GRAND LAKE - Gov. Ted Strickland is asking the U.S. Small Business Administration to make federal low interest loans available to Grand Lake area businesses impacted by the summer's toxic algae blooms.
"The governor made the request Friday and we have not heard from the SBA yet," Amanda Wurst, spokeswoman for Strickland, said Monday. "We do anticipate hearing from them relatively soon."
A survey conducted by the Ohio Department of Development last month in Mercer and Auglaize counties showed 12 of 19 businesses contacted demonstrated a revenue loss of 40 percent or more during the lake's algae bloom period compared to the same time last year.
Kathy Keller, director of the Small Business Development Center at Rhodes State College in Lima, who helped distribute the surveys, said if the SBA determines at least two businesses sustained substantial economic injury from the algae blooms, the SBA would offer the loans.
The 30-year, 4 percent interest loans could be used as operating capital to help the businesses stay in business, she said.
"Ohio businesses and families struggled with the loss of activity at the lake this summer and that decreased activity took a toll on our local businesses and economy," Strickland said in a news release. "This SBA assistance would provide much-needed relief to our small business owners and help them recover from the significant loss of revenue they experienced as a result of the algae blooms."
Grand Lake is one of 20 water bodies across the state that had harmful algae blooms in 2010, said Jeff Botti, Ohio Department of Development spokesman. Surveys were distributed to businesses in all affected areas.
Ohio EPA officials said though many lakes had toxic algae blooms this summer, Grand Lake by far was the most severe.
Massive toxic algae blooms and a no contact water advisory kept people away from the lake this summer, hurting state park campground visitation, lake-related businesses and causing the cancellation of the annual Governor's Cup Regatta. The advisory has since been downgraded to allow boating after toxin levels dropped. The first water quality advisory for Grand Lake was issued in 2009.
Jared Ebbing, Mercer County community and economic development director, said similar low-interest loans may become available through the state as well. He and Todd Fleagle, Ebbing's counterpart from Auglaize County, have been working with the Ohio State Treasurer's office on that issue since August, Ebbing said.
Ebbing said aid for Grand Lake businesses will be among the topics discussed at a public meeting Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Wright State University-Lake Campus. The meeting will update work being done by the Lake Restoration Commission and various pilot projects and technology being used to help restore the lake.
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