Thursday, December 9th, 2010
Lake businesses may sue farmers
Lawyers contacted about pollution damage
By Shelley Grieshop
Several Grand Lake-area business owners are planning a class-action lawsuit against local farmers whom they blame for the polluted lake and their own loss of revenue.
Local businessman Bill Goodwin said he held a meeting at his home on Tuesday to discuss the issue with about 20 area individuals. Three law firms from Georgia, Missouri and Indiana intend to jointly pursue the case, according to documents obtained by The Daily Standard.
Several business owners already have signed and returned the contracts to the firms, Goodwin said this morning. He would not name the owners.
"By the end of the day, I expect we'll have at least 10 more," he said.
The attorneys hope to get about 100 people on board but will take the case with just 10, Goodwin said. Another meeting will be held in January, he added.
Goodwin said the law firms intend to identify which of the approximately 300 farmers in the Grand Lake Watershed are responsible for polluting the lake and name them in the lawsuit.
According to Goodwin, many lakeside businesses lost 40 percent of their income this summer and two marinas were forced to close because of the toxic blue-green algae problem that led the state to ban boating, swimming, fishing and all physical contact with the water.
"We don't feel like the state or federal government will do anything to help us and they haven't," said Goodwin, who owns Park Grande Resort and Kozy Marina and Campground.
Goodwin believes too many of the farmers aren't cooperating now and won't follow soon-to-be state mandates on spreading manure on land. The mandates are designed to reduce phosphorus run-off from manure into Grand Lake. Phosphorus feeds the blue-green algae.
"They (farmers) don't care about us. It's ethically and morally wrong what they're doing," he said.
When asked if Goodwin thinks the proposed lawsuit could make matters worse, he said he and other business owners have no choice.
"We discussed that but since the farmers don't seem to care about us ... We've asked them nicely, but they've refused. We know they're not the only problem, but they're the biggest problem," he said.
Goodwin said despite his comments, he loves the farmers but won't hesitate to sue the ones who continue to degrade the lake. The lawsuit isn't about money, it's about taking a stand, he said.
"I don't want the money, I want the lake cleaned up," he added.
Goodwin said he realizes several methods to fix the lake's problems are already in place, but he feels the action could come too late for many bars and restaurants.
John Sheets, owner of the Wooden Eagle, a restaurant on the north side of the lake, believes a lawsuit is the wrong way to go. He thinks it will divide the community and make matters worse.
"I'm not sure that's going to be the answer. Farmers are powerful here in Ohio, and it's best to work with them," he said. "Drawing a line in the ground? I'm not sure that's where we need to be."
The law firms - The Middleton Firm, Speer Law Firm and Ramey & Hailey - estimate their cost to handle the case will be $500,000, Goodwin said. According to the contract, the attorneys will not charge the clients for the service but expect to claim 40 percent of any funds recovered, as well as expenses.
Goodwin said he's not sure which court the lawsuit would be filed.
Phone calls left at the individual law firms were not returned at press time.