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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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        A bill to allocate more funding for reducing phosphorus levels in Lake Erie will be sent to Gov. John Kasich by the end of this month, State Sen. Randy Gardner, R- Bowling Green, said.

        The Senate voted 33-0 Wednesday on Senate Bill 299, sponsored by Gardner, and a companion bill, sponsored by Steven Arndt, R – Port Clinton, is pending in the House finance committee.

        Sen. Gardner said Thursday he expects one of the bills to be on the governor’s desk this month.

        “Our goal is to have one of these two bills sent to the governor by the end of June,” Gardner said. “I think our sense of urgency on these bills should be equal to the sense of urgency we have to do more for Lake Erie.”

        Rep. Arndt, a member of the finance committee and a co-sponsor of House Bill 643, last week said committee chairman Ryan Smith informed him the panel would vote this month on the bill.

        The finance committee held its first hearing on the bill May 16 with Arndt providing testimony. Hearings were also held May 22 and 23 when the committee heard from proponents, including farm organizations representing grain growers and dairy, cattle, poultry and pork producers as well as the Conneaut city manager and the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

        In 2015, Ohio, Michigan and Canada entered into an agreement to reduce phosphorus levels in the lake by 40 percent by 2025.

        However, current efforts aren’t enough to meet that goal, Arndt testified.

        He said HB 643 and the companion bill approved by the Senate, follow the recommendations of a 2017 white paper to meet the 40 percent reduction level.

        “That was the blueprint for the legislation,” Arndt said. “It covered four areas they thought would allow us to get back on track for the 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading into the western basin.”

        In his testimony, Rep. Arndt described the House bill as a “targeted funding solution bill” rather than a regulatory bill, providing both General Revenue Fund monies and capital funding to help address the phosphorus problem in the lake.

        The bills allocate:

  • $2.65 million in capital funds for a new research facility for the Ohio Sea Grant/Stone Lab and in-lake monitoring equipment.
  • An additional $10 million in capital funding for the Healthy Lake Initiative to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials.
  • Up to $3.5 million in general revenue funds to support county soil and water conservation districts in the western Lake Erie basin with soil testing, manure conversion technologies, enhanced filter strips and water management.
  • Up to $20 million in capital funding for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Lake Erie Commission and Ohio Soil & Water Commission to establish programs to reduce total phosphorus and dissolved phosphorus in sub-watersheds of the western basin,

        “This is a targeted approach in the watersheds. We now know where the critical areas are and can be very focused on strategically implementing these funds. This bill is a two-year bill to implement some of these strategies,” Arndt said.

        James Hockaday, city manager of Conneaut, told the committee that the city in two years will be required to have a facility operating to take in dredged material.

        “We anticipate removing 60,000 cubic yards of material every two years. Currently, the regulations do not affect private dredging - which in the case of Conneaut produces a nearly equal volume of material to that in the federal channel. We believe that all dredging should be treated equal due to the potential for both to harm the water quality of the lake,” he said.

        Greg Labarge, associate professor of the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University, testified in support of Senate Bill 299, the companion bill to HB 643.

        A member of the team that authored the white paper, Labarge told the senate finance committee the investment in the Stone Lab and sea grant program was needed.

        “Both the lab and Ohio Sea Grant are essential to the state’s efforts to assess Lake Erie’s health and inform management decisions. It should be noted that the amount of baseline data collected in Lake Erie and its tributaries has and continues to suffer from lack of financial support,” he said.

        Harmful algal blooms, the excessive growths of toxin-producing algae that form in Lake Erie during the summer, are triggered primarily by excess phosphorus.         

 

 

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