Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
State won't fight payout to deserving landowners
Zehringer reiterates doubt on another alum dose
By Nancy Allen
The state will look out for taxpayers as it continues to litigate an estimated 50-plus cases involving landowners suing over flooding from Grand Lake's West Bank spillway, an official says.
"We're going to make sure people who have flooding and deserve it (payment), get it, and those who don't have flooding, don't," Jim Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told attendees at the Celina Rotary Club meeting Tuesday.
Zehringer was in Celina as part of a delegation making stops prior to Gov. John Kasich's State of the State address in Lima.
Officials have said the case could cost the state $40 million or more to compensate all involved landowners.
In 2011, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered local jury trials to determine compensation amounts for the 80-plus landowners who won a lawsuit blaming the state's spillway for increased flooding to their land. The first trial was in January, with landowners Wayne and Janet Doner being awarded $1.9 million for 222 acres; their land also will be recorded as a permanent state flowage easement. The state did not appeal the verdict.
More than 50 compensation trials are expected.
Zehringer said a long-awaited report on the effectiveness of last year's alum treatment on Grand Lake remains incomplete. He also reiterated that it is unlikely the lake will receive a third treatment.
"The chances of an alum treatment this year are very, very slim," Zehringer said. "We've analyzed it internally, and we've found the money can be better spent keeping it (phosphorous) from coming in than treating the lake."
The state paid $8.4 million to twice treat the 4,900-acre center of the lake with alum in an attempt to curtail toxic blue-green algae blooms. Alum deactivates phosphorous, the algae's favorite food. The 2011 alum treatment reduced phosphorous levels by up to 56 percent in the lake's center and 20 to 30 percent in untreated areas. Officials already have said it may not have worked as well in 2012 because three times as much wind stirred up sediment.
Zehringer said the state will continue to dredge the lake, remove rough fish that contribute to poor water quality by riling up the sediment and excreting phosphorous in their waste and look into other treatment options. The state also will continue water release tests from the lake by opening tubes on the spillway to develop a lake level management protocol for Grand Lake.
"We're looking at keeping the level at (normal) pool in March, so if we get rains, we have the capacity to hold it," he said.
Five watershed farmers issued chief's orders for failing to complete nutrient management plans on time are working on them, the director said. The plans are part of new rules local livestock farmers must follow due to the watershed being designated distressed in 2010 after humans and animals were sickened by algae toxins in the lake.
A nutrient management plan is a formal document that tells farmers how to best manage their manure so it does not run off and cause pollution in waterways. The 13,500-acre lake's algae is fed mostly by phosphorous found in manure, which runs off farmland, the largest land use in the watershed.
Zehringer outlined three goals of ODNR - shale development in the eastern part of the state, preserving and updating state parks and addressing statewide water quality issues, including those in Grand Lake and Lake Erie, which have suffered large toxic algae blooms in recent years.
"In eastern Ohio, there is Utica and Marsalis shale, which could help the U.S. become energy independent by 2020," Zehringer said. "We've got plenty of natural gas due to fracking."
Zehringer said the process allows companies to drill horizontally and inject water, sand and a small amount of proprietary chemicals into the shale to fracture it and release natural gas trapped in the rock.
Zehringer said the state will ensure fracking is done responsibly and that any "bad actors," such as D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating in Youngstown, are put out of business. The companies were found dumping fracking flowback water into a storm sewer that emptied into the Mahoning River. The state last week announced that it permanently revoked operating permits for both companies owned by Ben Lupo.
"We're going to put him out of business in Ohio and make sure he doesn't ruin this for us," Zehringer said.
There has never been a case of well water contamination as a result of fracking in Ohio, he said.
The state can require that information on the proprietary chemicals, often not disclosed, be divulged if contamination occurs, Zehringer said.
A total of 518 horizontal drilling permits for Utica shale have been filed in Ohio and 236 wells have been drilled, Zehringer said, an amount the state expects to double next year.