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06-05-06 Plan includes possible lawsuit

By Nancy Allen

  The nonprofit Lake Improvement Association (LIA) is creating a plan to restore Grand Lake that includes the possibility of suing governmental agencies for allowing the lake to become degraded.

  Vic Woodall, chairman of the LIA's Lake Restoration Committee (LRC), told LIA members Saturday that consultant Mark Bamberger and an Ohio Environmental Council attorney is helping put together the plan. The document will be called "A Strategic Plan for the Restoration of the Water Quality and Ecological Wellbeing of the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed."

  The LRC was formed specifically to help improve the water quality in Grand Lake and its surrounding watershed.

  There will be four main parts to the document. They are to create a new 501 (c)3 nonprofit status for the LIA, which would make any monetary or land donations tax deductible, pursue a major grant to buy land around the lake, form a separate corporation within the group for the purpose of establishing a land bank to either build wetlands or for developers to install mitigated wetlands on and possibly pursue legal action against state agencies for lack of action to restore the lake.

  Woodall downplayed the possibility of a lawsuit, this morning, calling it a last resort.  In the document there is a section for each of the government entities -- the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio EPA and ODNR -- that quotes various agency rules and regulations that our member groups felt where not lived up to, Woodall explained.

  At last week's legislative day on the lake sponsored by the private Lake Development Corporation, another lake group working toward improved lake water quality, the LIA requested $3 million dollars a year for 10 years to address various water quality issues.   The money would be used to buy land around the lake to build wetlands, implement shoreline stabilization to stop bank erosion, and reduce the amount of sediment and attached nutrients that get into the lake.

  "I asked on whose watch did our lake become the most degraded," said LIA member Jeff Vossler, who made the request for funds before a crowd of various Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) officials, including Sam Speck, director of ODNR. "I feel it is not all ODNR's problem. ODNR owns the lake, but who are all the parties who contributed to it."

  Water quality testing done by the Ohio EPA in 1997 determined that the Wabash River and Grand Lake watersheds are two of the most degraded in the state.

  Also during Saturday's LIA meeting, area farmer Steve Zumberge asked the LIA to support a formal water drawdown policy for the lake to lessen flooding of farmland west of the lake. Zumberge is one of five local farmers suing ODNR over flooding of their farmland they say has worsened since the construction of the new spillway in 1997.

  Six inches of rain received in some parts of the county late last week caused road closings and flooding. The lake's south side was hit particularly hard.

  "In between rains I'm asking to keep the water in the lake where we don't flood everybody downstream," Zumberge said. "It's for the good of everybody, not just downstream. People on the south side have flooding too.

  One LIA member said he felt the group should not be associated with anyone suing ODNR. LIA President Bill Ringo however encouraged the group to discuss the matter at future meetings.

  The next LRC meeting is June 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge in Celina and the next LIA meeting is July 1 at 10 a.m. at the Moose Lodge.


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