The first meeting of the newly-formed Lake Erie Caucus of state legislators will likely be scheduled early in 2014, when it will hold an organizational session, according to State Sen. Randy Gardner’s office.
The Bowling Green Republican last week announced the formation of the bi-partisan group to provide leadership on issues pertaining to the lake.
Sen. Capri Cafaro (D- Hubbard) will serve as joint chairman of the caucus, Gardner said, and State Rep. Chris Redfern (D – Catawba) has agreed to a leadership role.
Combined, the districts of Redfern and Gardner represent more of the lake’s shoreline than any other legislators with the two serving Ottawa and Erie counties.
Cafaro represents Ashtabula County, which borders the lake in eastern Ohio.
“We just believe the lake and all it means to Ohio needs even more focus,” Gardner said. “As state legislators, we have an obligation to provide that focus and leadership.”
Gardner was a sponsor of the Healthy Lake Fund, which was established to help fight problems with algal blooms in the lake.
Redfern has been a steadfast opponent to drilling under the lake for natural gas and oil.
Cafaro said he’s anticipating “substantive discussions” about the lake’s role in economic growth and tourism as well as preserving the environmental health of the lake.
Gardner and Cafaro said they expected a strong contingent of Senate and House members to join the caucus.
Members of Gov. John Kasich’s administration, including personnel from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Commerce, will be asked to provide input, Gardner said, as will travel and tourism organizations, environmental groups, boating and fishing associations and small businesses affected by the lake.
According to the natural resources department, about there are about 2.25 million acres of Lake Erie under Ohio's jurisdiction.
Sport fishing for walleye, yellow perch, and smallmouth bass amounts to 10 million hours a year of recreational activity on the lake.
An estimated 450,000 people fish in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie every year, contributing $680 million to Ohio's economy.
However, the lake is affected by its watershed as sedimentation, urbanization and agricultural runoff impact it more than any of the Great Lakes.