Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
Mercer, Auglaize counties join to help Grand Lake
New organization could be in place by January
  Commissioners in Mercer and Auglaize counties took formal action Tuesday to create a joint organization that will focus on enhancing the water quality of Grand Lake.
All six commissioners signed resolutions giving a recently-hired law firm permission to file their application with the Secretary of State to establish the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Community Improvement Corporation (CIC).
The CIC will be designated as the leading, local nonprofit entity to receive and administer funds and oversee all projects geared for lake clean-up and its future health.
"As you all know, the CIC will serve as an interim entity ... until we figure out how to handle such matters on a long-term basis," Scott Ziance, one of the group's attorneys, said during a phone conference with commissioners on Tuesday.
Local politicians Ohio Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, and Rep. Jim Zehringer, R-Fort Recovery, urged the creation of a single organization to communicate with state and federal agencies and handle financial issues, Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin said.
"They wanted just one body to deal with," he said. "We didn't want a conservancy district, we didn't like the idea of a port authority ... this (the CIC) just made more sense."
The application to establish the CIC will immediately be filed with the Secretary of State's office and then must be approved by the state's Attorney General's office. If all goes well, the new CIC may hold its first official meeting in early January, Ziance said.
The cost of filing the petition will be paid equally by both counties. The majority expense - $5,000 for the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease of Columbus - also was equally shared.
"After the first of the year, it should be up and running," he added.
All agreed that a CIC with county commissioners exclusively serving as its board, is unusual.
"I don't know of any in the state that is set up this way," Laffin said.
The first CIC meeting will include the election of officers with equal representation of commissioners from each county, as stated in the "initial articles of incorporation" or bylaws. Policies - such as a mission statement - also must be established.
Tuesday's meeting took place at the Mercer County commissioner's office in Celina. Present were Mercer County commissioners Laffin, John Bruns and Bob Nuding and Auglaize County commissioners Doug Spencer, Don Regula and John Bergman.
Also on hand was Mercer County Economic Development Director Jared Ebbing, who continues to be heavily involved in many lake clean-up projects.
"It was really cool to see commissioners from both counties pass resolutions for the common good of all," Ebbing said. "It's very encouraging. It's another step, a positive step."
Because the 13,500-acre lake extends into both counties, all six commissioners felt decisions on its fate - particularly financial decisions - should be shared equally.
"If we sign a grant for Mercer County, where does that leave Auglaize County? Nuding asked as an explanation for the joint venture.
When the lake's blue-green algae problem escalated in recent years, the Lake Restoration Commission (LRC) was organized. Its members include representatives from 12 entities such as the local state park and visitors bureau.
LRC members don't plan to disband with the birth of the new CIC. Instead, they hope to continue their work and be an asset to the commissioners.
"This action (the new CIC) will assist the LRC in creating a dedicated legal entity for lake issues and concerns," said Tom Knapke, facilitator for the LRC. "This action is a positive step for our region and will benefit the commission with challenging fundraising and lobbying actions associated with the lake."
Knapke said the LRC will continue meeting on a regular basis and members likely will attend CIC meetings.
County commissioners have indicated that LRC members could be asked to serve on special committees created within the CIC.
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