COLUMBUS — A pair of local Ohio Legislature members are pushing a bill that could put a $100 million per year, 10-year bond issue on the statewide ballot as soon as November.
House Bill 643, known as the Clean Lake 2020 Plan, is a bipartisan effort to focus on Lake Erie, particularly working to reduce algal blooms in the western portion of the state and invest in clean lake initiatives.
“All of us who live, work and play in Ohio have a vested interest in clean water — and it is vital that we confront our challenges to provide each and every person with that life-giving resource,” said State. Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
Patterson said the hope is to pass legislation in time to have the bond issue before voters this fall.
The Clean Lake 2020 plan would include:
• $36 million to combat harmful algal blooms.
• Up to $20 million to establish programs to reduce total phosphorus in sub-watersheds of the Western Lake Erie Basin.
• $2.65 million for research lab space and in-lake monitoring equipment.
• $10 million to support projects to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials into Lake Erie by 2020, as required by Ohio law.
• $3.5 million to support county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
“This bipartisan effort offers help for communities to rebuild their water and sewage systems, our agricultural families to enhance conservation practices and our ports to effectively dispose of dredging material that can clog our harbors,” Patterson said. “On so many levels this initiative is the right idea at the right time.”
The port dredging issue was particularly important to Patterson, who cited concerns regarding what the Ashtabula and Conneaut ports would do with dredged material if they could not dump it in the lake.
“Without the open lake dumping it would really place a hardship on our ports. (But) open lake dumping is not an option; this (bill) helps to address that,” he said, adding, “If we don’t dump it in the open lake we have to find ways to dispose of it.”
That will require research to develop new uses for the material, including potentially putting it to use on the land side, building storage facilities or even using it in foundational work in roads.
“We’re not quite sure — that’s where the money is important to look for different research. We just don’t know,” he said. “If you don’t dump it out in the lake, it becomes more expensive. We need to find a market usage for that material.”
Conneaut City Manager Jim Hockaday said finding a sustainable use for the dredged material is something the city has been looking into for a while.
“No matter what you do with it, you’re talking about a lot of material,” he said, adding the material dredged in Conneaut is much cleaner and free of pollutants, as opposed to the dredged material in the Cleveland Harbor that eventually triggered a lawsuit between the Army Corps of Engineers — which performs the dredging — and the state.
He said coming up with a solution to the problem is essential to all eight Ohio ports because if there is nowhere to put the material, the Army Corps of Engineers will stop the dredging.
“We better start coming up with some creative solutions that one would hope have economic value,” Hockaday said, adding, “We just want to make sure we can do this responsibly, safely and have a plan that isn’t going to cost taxpayers money. The thought is, if we can recover a material value from the dredged material ... then that would be the preferred way to do it.”
Even if that option doesn’t turn a profit, making it self-sustainable would be big, he said.
“I don’t think anybody would argue that we’re better off without a port,” Hockaday added.
As for the toxic algal blooms, Patterson said the issues here are different from the Western Basin near Toledo because the water here is deeper and higher winds keep it from being as stagnant. However, Hockaday said it is still a “very serious concern” here as well because they do see the algal blooms in the Central Basin.
“With our agricultural processes we are in fairly decent shape,” Patterson said. “We’re looking at this in a proactive way.”
Patterson said there is bipartisan momentum in both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate to pass the bill. Co-sponsors include State Rep. Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, and State Sens. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, and Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, who sponsored companion legislation in the Senate.