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Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Miller to lead LRC

Knowledge of lake, passion surpass other candidates'

By Nancy Allen
GRAND LAKE - The Lake Restoration Commission (LRC) chose someone familiar to lead the group and oversee projects aimed at fighting Grand Lake's toxic algae.
Milt Miller, the group's fundraising chairman, will start as manager of the LRC on Wednesday. He has resigned from his position as business development officer at The People's Bank Co. in St. Marys.
Miller said his first priority is to ensure the entire lake receives a $5 million aluminum sulfate treatment funded by the state this year.
"It's clearly the device we are looking for to keep our lake open in the short term," Miller said of treating the lake with alum, which deactivates phosphorous, the algae's main food source.
The state continues to search for $3.5 million; it already has $1.5 million remaining from last year's treatment, which was pared over fears already high algae counts would cause a large fish kill. Last year's treatment to the center of the lake reduced phosphorous levels in that area 56 percent and 20-30 percent in untreated areas.
The lake has suffered massive blue-green algae blooms the last couple summers, resulting in water quality advisories and millions in lost tourism dollars.
LRC members will continue to meet with state directors about the lake and advise Miller in his duties, he said. The LRC, formed just over two years ago, is an all-volunteer group comprised of private and government officials raising money for equipment and technology to restore the lake.
"We will still be a team working hard to fix the lake, and all I'm going to do is spend 24/7 doing the things the group of us did as volunteers," he said.
Miller was among 24 who applied for the job and three who were interviewed. His $72,000 salary, which includes benefits, is being funded by the state, cities of Celina and St. Marys, Auglaize and Mercer counties, the LRC and Lake Improvement Association.
His office will be housed at the Auglaize & Mercer Counties Convention and Visitor's Bureau next to the Grand Lake St. Marys State Park office.
LRC Facilitator Tom Knapke said hiring Miller will allow the group to continue its momentum. He also said Miller's name recognition in the community and at the state level is important to the position. Knapke will step down as facilitator.
It was Miller's knowledge of the lake's issues and his passion for restoring it that made him unique among the candidates, LRC spokeswoman Julie Miller said.
"Obviously, he already knows everything that the LRC has been faced with because he's been here since day one," she said. "What stood out was his passion and willingness to do things that didn't seem achievable."
He spearheaded an LRC effort to raise nearly $925,000 in private donations to help pay for equipment, technology and scientific consulting for the lake.
"He has the credibility with the local people," Miller said. "He's going to continue to be the face of fundraising and add to it the day-to-day actions of the job and project management, as well as keeping people hopeful."
His educational and professional background also includes commercial loans and sales and involvement in numerous civic organizations including the St. Marys Kiwanis, Mercer County Sportsman's Association, St. Marys Summerfest steering committee and the Lake Development Corporation. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and public relations.
Miller grew up on the lake, catching carp and playing along its shores. He's been known to shed tears over the lake's condition and the resolve of local people working to restore it. He lives on the north side of the lake in the Northwood subdivision.
He said his decision to resign from his previous job was difficult, but he felt compelled to take the job.
"Once in a while you run into things where you can really make a difference and this is one of them," he said. "There's just something that says you need to do this."
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