The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is considering exempting Lake Erie projects from the requirement for mandatory public hearings.
The rule is one of three water quality rules drafted by the Ohio EPA that protect lakes, rivers, streams and other surface water bodies from pollution.
The public hearing exemption is for all projects impacting superior high quality waters. Hearings would be required when there is significant public interest.
Many of the projects are for shoreline work being done by homeowners.
The change is being proposed because the agency has held several hearings on such projects that no one attended, according to the Ohio EPA. The move would save taxpayer money.
“These are smaller projects where someone along the shoreline needs to do some dredging,” said Linda Fee Oros, a spokesman for the Ohio EPA. “They are very minor projects. But the way the law is written now, we are required to hold a hearing. We’ll send a crew out to hold a hearing, but nobody is there. That’s happening a lot.”
A comment period would continue for all projects, with written comments carrying the same weight as comments spoken at a public hearing.
Other draft changes would include:
• Revise the designations for humans contacting water in recreation to include three classes that would reflect the intensity and frequency of recreation use. Class A waters would be Ohio’s most used canoeing streams, and would have criteria comparable to those for beaches; Class B and C waters would have slightly less stringent criteria comparable to the current primary contact level. Fecal coliform water quality would be replaced with a standard for E. Coli to reflect U.S. EPA’s recommendations. This is due to scientific studies that line E. Coli with incidences of illness among swimmers, which would make it a better health-based indicator.
• Restrict the disposal of dredge material in the Lake Erie western basin to a maximum of 50,000 cubic yards per applicant for a12-month duration. Currently, there is no limit, said Oros.
Ohio EPA plans to propose the rule revisions this spring, and hold a public hearing and a second public comment period. Following a second comment period and public hearing for the rules revision, the agency will review the second round of comments, consider changes, then adopt the rules.