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Monday, March 17th, 2014

Officials seek land for lake sediment

Experts ask Sen. Portman to work with EPA, U.S. Army Corps to allow construction of islands

By Kathy Thompson

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, second from left, was at Wright State University-. . .

CELINA - Local officials seek more land to place dredged material, and on Saturday asked U.S. Senator Rob Portman to help them achieve that goal.
Portman, R-Ohio, was at Wright State University-Lake Campus to hear concerns about algae blooms and hypoxia that have plagued the lake for several years.
"We need a place to put all this sediment that we're dredging," Lake Restoration Commission Manager Milt Miller said. "We need the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to coordinate with us in this effort."
More than 300,000 cubic yards of sediment - a record amount - was taken out of the lake in 2013, officials said. However, the problem is a lack of available property near the lake to dispose of it. Officials want to build islands made of dredged material throughout the nine-mile lake.
Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Brian Miller said EPA regulations require islands to provide multiple functions, be appropriate for the surrounding landscape and compatible with the surrounding land use.
"If we put the material into an island, it would serve as a break-up for the wind fetch, which would in turn help the boaters who sometimes have a hard time on the lake," he said. "It would offer places for boaters to go in case they are in distress and it would give another place for waterfowl and fish to have another habitat."
Regulations also require officials to mitigate acreage for every island acre, Brian Miller explained.
"Let's say we want to build an acre island," he said. "Then we could be responsible for creating three acres of wetland. That's a lot. There are very few farmers out there who want to give up a lot of acreage for this."
Milt Miller told Portman that state and local leaders such as state Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, have been instrumental in netting money for dredging and treatment trains, but more federal help is needed.
Portman said he would talk to the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to see if the process for developing more relocation areas could be moved along more smoothly.
"I will see if I can't get you help from the federal government," Portman said. "I know you need more resources and know that some regulations may make it difficult regarding the dredging. The Grand Lake could be not just a model for Ohio but for the entire country."
Brian Miller said there currently are 13 relocation areas around the lake for dredging material. Some are "tear-drop" areas that reach out from the shore, including land owned by private farmers.
Four of the 13 areas already are full: one is on private land owned by Pat McEvoy; one at West Bank, which is state park property; one at the waterfowl refuge, which is a Division of Wildlife property; and a lot owned by Mercer County south of Montezuma.
Construction for another location is slated this spring on a 40-acre area at the Lake Campus owned by the Western Ohio Education Foundation. The area is just north of state Route 703 and is a very low area that floods frequently, Brian Miller said.
Some landowners don't charge the state and others do to regain profits from fields not planted, he added.
Another issue brought to Portman's attention came from Dr. Robert Hiskey, a WSU professor of biological sciences who also studies the lake. He would like to see a more coordinated effort by the feds regarding researchers who come to the area, take lake samples and are never heard from again.
"We'd like to know what they are finding," Hiskey told Portman. "We could all help each other. What we would like to see is a common information storage deposit. We don't know exactly what triggers the algae and sometimes research isn't published for years."
Hiskey said no one knows how the 61 inches of snow that fell in the area this winter will impact algae blooms this summer.
"I just know that the first summer it hit, I actually went out on the lake and the bow of the boat looked like it was painted green," Hiskey said. "We all want to support the science involved and see if we can't find solutions."
Portman agreed with Hiskey and said the lake's problems didn't develop overnight and wouldn't go away that fast either.
"This issue is something that took years and years to develop," Portman said after the forum. "We need to have better coordination between the local and federal governments and we need to know exactly what is out there as far as research. We want to work seamlessly together. This just isn't a problem here. This has become a global problem and we can all benefit by working together."
Grand Lake is among four state lakes to face water advisories in recent years due to algae toxins. Studies show most of the phosphorous, which feeds the algae in Grand Lake, comes from farmland - the largest land use in the livestock-heavy 58,000-acre watershed. In 2011, the state designated the watershed distressed, triggering new manure rules designed to reduce nutrient runoff for the 270 farms in the area.
Grand Lake has been under state-issued water advisories for the past five summers due to unsafe levels of algae toxins.  
Portman last week announced that the U.S. Senate passed a bill giving $20.5 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to research and combat algae blooms and hypoxia. However, the Grand Lake area will not see any of that money directly but the research may greatly benefit the area, Portman said.
Portman and Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduced the bill; the legislation is awaiting approval by the House of Representatives before being signed by President Obama.
Other officials attending Saturday's forum were Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel, Auglaize County Commissioner John Bergman, St. Marys Mayor Pat McGowan and Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin.
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