Grand Lake groups have same goals, different approaches

By Lance Mihm

August 8, 2014

COLUMBUS — In light of the water supply problem in Toledo, local groups aimed at cleaning up Grand Lake St. Marys were hearing a high frequency of concerns from local residents and in turn are using the opportunity to step up efforts and educate the public in an effort to get support for their causes.

However, there remains philosophical differences.

The group Guardians of the Grand Lake St. Marys held a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol Thursday as they have primarily geared their efforts toward finding better processes to clean the lake. The group says Auglaize and Mercer county residents are being victimized by Governor Kasich’s decisions.

“The Kasich administration has decided that acceptable damages to the citizens in the area are health and safety issues, loss of millions of tourism dollars, loss in business revenue and jobs, along with property value and quality of life losses,” said Kate Henderson, with the Guardians.

Henderson said a study done on all of the tributaries into the lake showed that measures of phosphorus, nitrates and fecal coliform is too high for the watershed area to handle. She said the state has never developed a reasonable plan.

“They have spent $20 million on projects that they knew in advance would not work,” Henderson said. “They have put the cart before the horse. Those three things have to be stopped before the lake can get better.”

The Guardians have used their organization to call for several improvements, including a moratorium on nutrient dumping until tests show the lake is maintaining a 6 parts per billion range in algae and toxins and maintained at that level for a number of years. The have also asked for frequent tests on the lake water. Henderson said the group plans on formally asking the state attorney general’s office to fully investigate the lake problem and for funds given to cleanup projects to be fully audited. They are currently setting up a legal fund to help out in possible litigation.

The group reported that in June 2014, the toxin level in the lake climbed to 140 ppb, more than 23 times the state EPA acceptable level of 6 ppb. The latest reports have the level at about 90 ppb.

Milt Miller, the manager of the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission, said the group has been falsely accused of not being passionate enough about cleaning up the lake.

“I think all groups involved are just as passionate as any others,” Miller said. “There are just a lot of philosophical differences on how to clean it up.

Miller claims that a test treatment is being done at the Prairie Creek tributary and is seeing excellent results. He said the treatment has caused a 90 percent drop in phosphorus and a 40 percent drop in nitrogen.

“That was our pilot wetlands, and we are seeing results,” Miller said. “We have secured funding for Coldwater Creek and we applied for another grant for Beaver Creek.”

Miller said the body blockers at the tributaries and aeration treatments in dead end channels are key to cleaning up the lake. He said many of the differences may be coming from the length of time it will take to clean the lake, a process he admitted is difficult as far as establishing a timeline.

“Even the experts don’t know how long it will be,” Miller said, “but what people need to realize is if you block off every single tributary, there is still going to be a problem. There is still what is called legacy phosphorus in the silt in the bottom of the lake. That is why we think dredging will be a key component in cleaning up the lake.”

Both groups commented that they felt that the Celina Water Department’s claim that the drinking water was safe was accurate.

“They are the experts, and we believe them,” Henderson said. “They took the bull by the horns at the first sign of trouble and invested in it.”

A politician running for the Ohio District 5 Congressional seat has taken a completely different approach to the problem, saying that the majority of the problems are coming from industrial dumping rather than farm runoff. He has used that theme as one of his key points in his run for office against incumbent Bob Latta.