By Nancy Allen
Combining the Wabash Watershed Alliance (WWA) with the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed Project or hiring a new watershed coordinator for the WWA were the two options for the WWA's future that emerged during the group's meeting on Tuesday.
The WWA met for more than an hour to mull over how to proceed and keep the group alive now that the group's watershed coordinator has resigned.
Toward the end of the meeting, members agreed to call in a facilitator from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for next month's WWA meeting to help the group sift through the issues.
The group must decide what to do in the next three or four months or it could lose a six-year state grant that was paying most of the salary and benefits of former watershed coordinator Lance Schwarzkopf. Other local funds from Mercer and Darke counties also pay a portion of the coordinator's salary and benefits.
The decision process was slowed Tuesday due to poor meeting attendance. There was no quorum present to make a formal decision on how to proceed. "Right now becoming a nonprofit organization isn't going to work," said WWA Chairman Gary Steinbrunner. "As I see it we have two options, either combine with Grand Lake or hire a new coordinator."
Schwarzkopf had been working on a watershed management plan that was supposed to be due to state officials by Jan. 1, 2005. Most of the WWA members present Tuesday indicated they wanted to hire someone to complete the watershed management plan. The plan is necessary to obtain Ohio 319 grant funds to implement cost-share practices aimed at improving water quality in the Wabash River and in the watershed area that drains into the river.
WWA members Tuesday fretted over a statement made last month by Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Chairman Rick Muhlenkamp that the SWCD probably would not hire another coordinator at this time due to existing budget constraints. Depending on the amount of county funds allocated to the SWCD office, a few employees may need to be let go at the beginning of next year, Muhlenkamp said.
Mercer SWCD Administrator/Education Specialist Nikki Hawk, who attended Tuesday's WWA meeting, said the Mercer SWCD has not made an official decision on the matter and indicated the statement was Muhlenkamp's own personal feeling.
One WWA member suggested merging the WWA and Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed Project for a couple of years until the WWA's management plan is done, then separating the two groups.
WWA member Mary Ann Baker said she felt it might be difficult to separate the groups.
"My thought is if we merge them now, they won't be separated," Baker said. "If we merge them, our emotional value would get swallowed up by the Grand Lake watershed because it has different issues like tourism and business. The Wabash's interests are a lot different."
Ed Everman, a program specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the state might be able to provide an intern to help Buck complete the WWA management plan.
Mercer County Commissioner Jim Zehringer suggested that if local funding for the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed Project does not materialize, that the WWA could hire that watershed group's coordinator, Heather Buck.
"If the funding turns out not to be there, it makes sense to hire Heather," Zehringer said.
Steinbrunner and other WWA members planned to write a summary of the available options and their pros and cons to give to WWA members as talking points at the next meeting on Oct. 12 at 8 a.m. at the Fort Recovery Village Hall.